Empowering Girls for a Changing World

The Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), in partnership with research agency YouthSight, has undertaken a remarkable initiative that has led to the creation of the Girls’ Futures Report. This report has sparked a national conversation about women and their attitudes towards leadership. In short, girls are more inclined to showcase their leadership capabilities rather than mere pursuit of leadership titles.

Subsequent media headlines have cast a spotlight on the relatively low levels of interest girls had in being ‘the boss’, revealing a profound shift in the ambitions of young women. Instead, they wanted to do a job they enjoyed, they wanted to do something purposeful, they wanted a sensible balance in their lives – but they were less interested in leadership for leadership’s sake. They were far more focused on earning respect than wielding authority, and ultimately, they want to change what it means to be a leader. It is also clear, then, that girls want to reshape the workplace so that it fits them, their preferences and their aspirations and they place a great deal of value on their wellbeing.

What can we discern from these revelations? Firstly, it is worth celebrating that the GDST is at the forefront of this conversation in its 150th year which reflects its enduring commitment to shaping the future of girls only education and women in leadership. Secondly, the views girls had about work-life balance seem to mirror the broader trends observed among Generation Z, encompassing both young men and women. Employers are increasingly recognising the need to adapt their practices and to engage a new generation of employees who expect a more sensible balance between the different parts of their lives. Thirdly, girls just seemed so sensible in their responses, and I applaud them for being 10% braver! They asked what the point was of being the boss if you really did not enjoy it. Aristotle would be very proud of them. They had a strong sense that happiness was more important than mere titles and this preference for fulfilment underscores the changing paradigm of leadership.

And therein lies a challenge for all of us who are leaders. In a world undergoing constant transformation, we do need young women to lead, whether in an official capacity or not. We need changing leadership models for a changing world – more collaborative, more open to new ways of doing things, more listening to and supporting others and improving society. This more expansive leadership style is better for girls – and for all of us.

One of the aspects of the ‘GDST difference’ was that GDST girls displayed a greater propensity for risk-taking, innovative problem-solving, and a readiness to assume leadership responsibilities. At Northampton High, we actively foster these attributes through a myriad of roles and responsibilities, such as the Sixth Form Student Leadership Team, House Captains, Form Representatives for School Council, Learning Ambassadors, Undivided Champions, Eco Team, Sports Captains, and many others. These roles help to cultivate our girls’ maturity, organisation and sense of service, and through this process they are able to lead their teams in the ways that suit their skills and personalities. More importantly, we can’t just pick our extroverts, our most obvious ‘natural’ leaders for these roles, we need to tap into leadership talent in all its diverse forms.

But what about at national and international level? What can we do to encourage girls to take the lead? They need not just the confidence and the skills but also the role models. When scanning the landscape of world leaders, few female role models come to mind. The business world remains male-dominated, and men often occupy top positions in educational establishments. That is still particularly true in the independent sector, though not in girls’ schools. Anyway, I doubt Heads are the first port of call to provide the inspiration girls need. Their peers are often a more effective source of that.

Now more than ever, it becomes incumbent upon us to empower girls to lead in their own way. They aspire to a type of leadership where measures of success are multidimensional and not necessarily reliant on traditional measures such as salary, prestige or power.

When girls take positive risks and learn new skills, they can feel a powerful sense of agency and accomplishment. And when girls are introduced to a more expansive definition of leadership, they are more likely to view themselves as leaders and change agents. As such, we also need to celebrate when girls lead with empathy, including being good listeners or standing up for a friend.

My message here is leadership takes courage. It takes integrity and authenticity. It takes an understanding that the desire for power for the sake of power does not lead to good outcomes. It takes a mindset that does not just accept the status quo. And sometimes, it takes huge personal risk. The world desperately needs more talented and empathetic leaders, and it is our collective responsibility to champion and nurture this latent potential within girls. This is the true essence of girl power.

I shall end this blog with a poignant poem written by some of our students (Esme P, Adithi, Rithika, Amelia) on Girl Power, which was featured in our Year 7 Showcase in March.

Girl Power

Hear my voice
As I speak
It’s my choice
I’m not weak

Don’t repeat our history
Let’s leave it a mystery

Let us use our education
To lead and rebuild our unfair nation
Let us write the sequel
Make the future equal

Hear my voice

After all these years, it’s time for change
Let’s find the wrongs that we can rearrange

Hear my voice

Hear my voice
As I speak
It’s my choice
I will NEVER be weak