Meet a good leader: Confident, smart, organized – and to a majority of Canadian youth, a man. That’s according to a new survey on leadership from Plan International Canada, which found only 10 per cent of Canadian youth picture a woman when they think of a CEO.

The survey, commissioned to mark International Day of the Girl, found that boys and girls attribute confidence as the top-rated trait a good leader should possess, followed by smart and organized. But while 75 per cent of girls and young women have confidence in their ability to lead, only 55 per cent describe themselves as confident and 81 per cent at least occasionally doubt they have what it takes to be a good leader.

The results suggest that despite progress, gender-related stereotypes and perceptions still pose barriers to leadership for girls. Nearly six in ten girls say they occasionally feel pressure to change how they act in order to achieve their leadership aspirations (57 per cent), and boys are more likely to describe girls as caring (54 per cent) or emotional (53 per cent) rather than confident (32 per cent).

“For the second year in a row our data clearly shows girls and young women in this country are ready and able to lead, but perceptions are still holding them back,” says Caroline Riseboro, President & CEO of Plan International Canada. “Although girls are confident in themselves, we need to change the status quo so they have the unwavering support in all areas of their lives that enables achieving their leadership aspirations, whatever they may be.”

“The disconnect between ambition and how girls and young women in Canada perceive their capabilities to lead is complicated – but it begins to make sense when focus is placed on the systemic barriers and the role gender socialization plays in shaping attitudes and perceptions from an early age,” says Saadya Hamdani, Director, Gender Equality at Plan International Canada. “It’s not the potential or capacities of girls that is the problem – it’s the reality of the social and institutional environments they are faced with.”

For International Day of the Girl 2019, Plan International Canada is calling on all Canadians to support girls on the path to leadership by testing their knowledge, sharing information that challenges existing social norms, and promoting access to resources – like education and skills training – that enable girls to make decisions that support their leadership aspirations. There are several ways Canadians can get involved in defying normal for International Day of the Girl 2019:

  • Test your knowledge: Challenge your own bias and learn the real facts about girls’ rights and leadership in Canada and around the world by participating in Plan International Canada’s Fact or Fact Check Game, available for online download or participate in person at CF Toronto Eaton Centre on October 11th and 12th. For more information, visit:
  • Start a conversation about girls’ leadership: Talk to friends, family members and colleagues about the facts and what means to support girls – and encourage action. Find useful tools to spark conversation at
  • Donate: Canadian girls surveyed most often selected education as the tool they think they need to achieve their leadership goals, but globally over 130 million girls are out of school. From Oct. 10-12text POWER to 30333 to donate $10 to help send 100 South Sudanese refugee girls to school in Uganda to access quality education that will help unleash their power. Additional money raised will support Plan International’s projects in need of urgent funds.

Additional survey findings:

On leadership:

  • Canadian girls most often selected the words confident (76 per cent of girls); organized (76 per cent of girls), supportive (69 per cent of girls) and smart (67 per cent of girls) when asked to describe a good leader.
  • Girls most often say education is the tool they need to achieve their leadership goals (20 per cent), and they most often say they have access to it (24 per cent).

On perceptions:

  • Fifty-three per cent of boys and young men surveyed described girls as emotional but only 10 per cent used the adjective to describe a good leader.
  • 57 per cent of boys and young men surveyed chose strong as a top adjective to describe a good leader, but only 31 per cent of boys and young men describe girls as strong.
  • Nearly half of Canadian girls (49 per cent) believe the boys sports teams at their high school were treated better and had a higher status than the girls’ teams.
  • More than seven in ten (72 per cent) of Canadian girls think the girls and women do more or somewhat more household chores compared to the boys or men in their home.

On mentorship:

  • Among Canadian girls who report having a mentor, 76 per cent report their mentor is female.
  • Girls are more likely to agree or somewhat agree they find women in positions of power more approachable (79%) than men in positions of power (57%).
  • Three in ten Canadian girls (32 per cent) say they never talk about their leadership aspirations with family or trusted adults.
  • Nearly eight in ten Canadian girls say their female peers encourage or somewhat encourage their leadership aspirations (78%).

About International Day of the Girl
In 2009, Plan International Canada led an extensive two-year campaign that engaged thousands of Canadians in a call for an International Day of the Girl as part of Because I am a Girl, a global initiative to end gender inequality and recognize girls’ rights as human rights. In December 2011, with unanimous all-party support, the Canadian government led the United Nations to officially declare October 11 as the International Day of the Girl.

In addition to releasing new data, to mark International Day of the Girl Plan International Canada placed over 30 Canadian girls aged 14-24 in day-long seat shares with CEOs, Presidents and business leaders as part of its Girls Belong Here initiative. From the United States to Thailand hundreds of girls are stepping into the roles of media, entertainment, business and politics leading up to and on October 11 to demand equal power, freedom and representation for girls and young women.