By Kimberly Oesterling
As a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America, I enjoy my work. At the end of a day, I know I have helped to make a difference in the world.
Still, some people are not aware that women work for the Boy Scouts of America in my type of unit-serving job. When they ask me why I chose such a career, I tell them the decision was a logical one--although I spent several years in other, less-fulfilling, careers before making it.
Upon graduation from the University of California, Berkeley, I worked in advertising and later as a London-based flight attendant for Pan American Airways. I received the Flight Attendant of the Year award for 1988 but then returned to my native Los Angeles to begin a new career as a college administrative assistant.
Six years later, still not satisfied with where I was going and looking for a way to use my humanities degree to help people and the community, I quit that job to become a police officer. However, I resigned after two days at the police academy, realizing I didn't want to help people in that manner.
I resolved to use the research skills I had developed in college to find the perfect job. At the library I looked up nonprofit organizations and came across a host of worthy organizations in which I could make a difference. Among them was the Boy Scouts of America.
I immediately sent my resume to several organizations, including the local BSA council. The San Gabriel Valley Council, Pasadena, Calif., contacted me 24 hours later, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I enjoy my work as a Scouting professional. My varied background has equipped me with an arsenal of skills that are helpful in the different areas the job involves.
I still run into volunteer Scouters who ask, "Why would a woman work for the Boy Scouts?" and I tell them my story. But the recurring question made me wonder about the growing trend of female Scouting professionals, and I decided to find out why other women chose this career.
I contacted three other female professionals from different councils and at different stages in their careers.
Maricela Gonzalez is a senior district executive for the Los Angeles Area Council. Like most professionals, she has a demanding schedule of three to five nights per week, including weekends and early morning hours.
Gonzalez accepts the time demands of the job by remembering why she chose Scouting as a career. "I love the Scouting program, and I want to insure that it reaches Hispanic youth and adults in my community," she says.
Janice Banks worked for the Greater Pittsburgh Council from 1992-1997 and now serves as Learning for Life director for the Orange County Council. She says she joined Scouting "to give back to the community."
Irene Szinavel is Scout executive of the Des Plaines Valley Council in La Grange, Ill. She dedicated her career to Scouting 13 years ago because she also wanted to give to her community.
Because the work can be very demanding, Banks and Gonzalez agree that the Scouting profession is not for every woman--or man.
"The job takes a certain type of person," Gonzalez says, "someone, for example, who is willing to relocate in order to move up in the organization."
All three women agree that a successful professional, male or female, must be a strong individual with initiative, who is also goal-oriented, organized, and an effective time manager.
Like all young professional Scouters, Banks and Gonzalez have long-term career goals. Gonzalez would like to earn a promotion to development director, and her future goals include promotions to program director, director of field service, and regional area director.
Banks's goals are not identical to Gonzalez's, as Scouting offers career paths to fit the diverse personalities of its professionals. With six years' experience as a BSA professional, Banks hopes to be promoted to instructor for the BSA's Center for Professional Development Center in Westlake, Tex. Later, she would like to be a local council Scout executive.
Irene Szinavel, who heads up the Des Plaines Valley Council, is currently the only female council Scout executive. She is the second female ever to serve as a council executive, following the late Mary L. Portis, who became council executive in Derby, Conn., in January 1991.
Szinavel was born in Brazil and graduated from Brigham Young University. She began as a district executive in Highland Park, Ill., in August 1985 and was promoted to senior district executive in 1988, then to finance director, field director and, in March 1995, to her current position as Scout executive.
"I was attracted to a career in Scouting because I was interested in developing youth, and I believe that professional Scouting is a great career with a tremendous amount of opportunity for women," Szinavel says.
A woman can do any job within the BSA organization, she adds. "You just need to decide what you want to do and do it. It is up to individuals to pursue their dreams and goals."
Asked what attracted them to a profession long dominated by men, the women agree on one point: The importance of bringing Scouting's values-based program to the community, they say, far outweighs any concerns about possible difficulties involved in breaking traditions.
"I wanted the chance to provide the values of the Scouting program to the Hispanic community," Gonzalez says. "I feel that my bilingual skills help me reach a greater number of Hispanics.
"I have seen Hispanics shy away from programs like Scouting because of the language barrier," she says, "and I want to help overcome that barrier in my community."
Janice Banks gave up a lucrative career in the insurance business to be a career Scouter.
"My new salary was about half of what I had been making," she states, "and the council staff kept asking me if I had really been aware of the starting salary."
Banks was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., and is a graduate of Chapman University in Orange, Calif. Like the others, she saw Scouting as an opportunity to give back to the community, because "I know the kids in my neighborhood would benefit from what Scouting has to offer."
The three women believe their experiences as trailblazers can help Scouting continue to attract quality female professionals.
For example, Banks suggests that past work experience, when applicable, should be counted toward a new professional's obligatory introductory three years' fieldwork. And Gonzalez believes that professional development training should include assertiveness training on how to handle issues female Scouting professionals encounter with male volunteers.
All agree that professional Scouting not only is a great job, but has special appeal for women. The flexibility of the work schedule, for example, allows mothers like Janice Banks to be home when her 13-year-old son arrives from school.
For single women with no children, like Maricela Gonzalez, the flexible schedule offsets the heavy and sometimes demanding work load, so she can enjoy a hobby, like bike-riding.
Irene Szinavel says the flexible schedule lets her enjoy her pastimes of skiing, volleyball, and gourmet cooking. But to get to a senior management level like council executive, she advises all Scouting professionals to manage their time, be optimistic, produce, and work hard. "Do the best job you can in your area," she says. "This is a profession of great opportunities."
A common theme of these women, myself included, is that we just want to serve our community, and Scouting lets us do so, utilizing many skills to achieve our personal and professional goals.
Kimberly Oesterling is a district executive with the Old Baldy Council in Ontario, Calif.
Needed: More Scouting Professionals
As of June 1998, the more than 3,400 Scouting professionals in the United States included 400 women, according to Jim Chandler, director of professional selection and placement for the National Council.
An increase in council unit-serving executives is a key part of the new BSA Strategic Plan 1998-2002. One of the plan's five critical issues--Leadership--calls for a 7.1 percent increase in unit-serving executives--from 2,254 in 1998 to 2,421 in 2002.
The increase in unit-serving executives is important, because research shows that the addition of one such council staff person will result in an additional 50 units, 350 volunteer adult leaders, and 1,100 youth members.
Another of the National Strategic Plan's critical issues--Traditional Unit and Membership Growth--calls for an increase by 2002 of almost 10,000 traditional units, to 131,229; youth membership is projected to increase to 3.75 million members, up from 3.4 million in 1998.
To learn more about a career as a Scouting professional, contact your local council service center or write to Boy Scouts of America, Professional Selection and Placement Service, S414, 1325 W. Walnut Hill Ln., P.O. Box 152079, Irving TX 75015-2079.
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