Equipping Girls for the Future – notes from the GDST Summit

20th June 2018

Guest blog by Claire Bale, Director of Marketing

What an inspiring day at the GDST Summit last week, hearing from incredible role models from all walks of life, including NGHS alumna Jenny Raw, surrounded by men and women who are all passionately working towards equipping girls for the future and gender equality for our next generations.

I had the privilege of attending as part of our SLT, and sharing a day with Cheryl Giovannoni, Chief Executive of the GDST; Karen Blackett, OBE, Britain’s most influential black person on the Power List; Nicky Morgan, MP; Sir David Bell, Vice Chancellor of the University of Reading; Dr Emily Grossman, Honorary STEM ambassador; Simon Henderson, Head Master at Eton; Afua Hirsh, author, journalist, broadcaster; Miranda Green, Deputy Opinion Editor at the Financial Times, and many alumnae and students of GDST schools. The room was galvanised by the honesty, wisdom and passion of a group of people handing the ladder down to future generations. There was so much to debate, it’s a challenge to summarise the day and to do it justice, but these are some of the key take-outs I brought home. It was a diverse day with a range of topics and challenges, but there were some key themes that emerged:

Diversity brings growth, as does creativity

It’s clear that historic points of view about what “success” looks like are outdated. There’s a wealth of evidence out there suggesting that diversity brings growth, whether that’s diversity of gender, experience, qualifications, or points of view. As Karen Blackett, OBE, so memorably put it, “Avengers Assemble!” To create a super team you need to bring different super powers together. With only 20% of leadership positions being held by women, and only 10% of tech professionals being women, we’re still laying down the tracks towards diversity.

Equality is not just a women’s issue

On the subject of diversity, the summit was a useful reminder that gender equality is not just a women’s issue. It’s not only women who are affected by the imbalance, and it’s not only women who are committed to equality. While the term “male feminist” can be an uncomfortable one for some, the many men who were at the GDST Summit, voiced their commitment to female equality in the workplace and are committed to equipping girls for a future where they will lead without compromise. There is a movement out there that isn’t solely female.

Covering

Many women (66%), and some men, can relate to the topic of “covering”, where they have felt the need to compromise their true characteristics and identities in order to fit into their surroundings, whether that’s where they’re educated, where they work, or where they socialise.

Many of us have heard criticisms of women who “behave like men” to reach their career goals, or have spoken to peers who put on a mask in the office, or dress in a way that blends into the boardroom instead of a way that reflects their own style. It was liberating to hear of incredible leaders embracing different personalities to drive businesses forward in the 21st century, and to learn that congruence actually increases individual’s performance too even if, and sometimes especially if, what they’re saying is different to what everyone else thinks. We need to “bring ourselves to work.” With the controversial call to arms of “be more Donald!” we learned from Karen Blackett, OBE, that in fact, if you truly believe what you say (no matter how questionable!) and your body language reflects it, you can win anything you set your mind to.

Mistakes and feedback

If you don’t achieve that goal first time round, one of the most important skills future generations need is “bounce-back-ability”. We learned from many honest and brave women who shared their failures, mistakes and wrong decisions from which they bounced back. These steps were vital in their incredible journeys to enviable success and inspirational positions in the world.

We know young adults, and particularly girls, are putting huge amounts of pressure on themselves to be perfect, causing issues with mental health and the confidence to try.  If we can all join forces to change this culture of perfectionism into one that embraces mistakes, then the future will be a healthier and more successful one for our upcoming generations of leaders.

Nicky Morgan shared her prescription for developing bounce-back-ability in the three Ps:

  • Positivity
  • Passion
  • Perseverance

She sparked an interesting debate on the importance of character education, and the value of learning how to be resilient, staying true to what you believe in and embracing challenges in a positive way. Those tough moments where we have been able to bounce back are often the times we have become the most proud of.

There was an almost tangible spirit of determination and excitement for the future at the GDST Summit, which brought to mind the closing scene from the GDST video about how you spot a GDST girl. “You’ll note it in her success, but you’ll see it in her spirit.”

As Cheryl Giovannoni pointed out, it would take 271 years to close the gender pay gap if we continue with the current rate of progress. Surely we can’t wait that long. With a spirit of positivity and fire in our bellies, we are aiming for ten.

 

 

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