Future female leaders are born in the classroom, but should be nurtured by society as a whole

A recent global report by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership (GIWL) at King’s College London, revealed that the British public tend to believe that male and female business leaders can be equally successful at delivering across most objectives. Most British people also said they have no preference whether their political leader or boss is a man or a woman. However, those who perceive a difference between male and female business leaders are more likely to think that female leaders are better at making sure their organisation operates in a more ethical, inclusive way.

You may have missed this news because the statistic from the GIWL report that received press coverage was that nearly one in two Britons (47%) believe that when it comes to giving women equal rights, things have gone far enough – compared to 38% who said the same last year. The GDST is familiar with this misconception that current progress means that the fight for equality has been won. However, it is something we strenuously refute. So we welcomed the report’s recommendation that fresh conversations need to be engaged in, that dispel the myth that women’s equality has gone far enough.

As a pioneering organisation and the largest family of girls’ schools in the UK for over 150 years, we are constantly campaigning for society to recognise the importance of the next generation of highly capable young women who will take up leadership positions on FTSE 100 boards, in Downing Street, The Supreme Court, as healthcare providers, world renowned artists, musicians, educators, or wherever their paths may take them. However, if the central message that equality for women has gone far enough is allowed to prevail, progress will inevitably slow. Although the GIWL’s findings about perceptions of women in business and politics are encouraging, I believe now is the time for schools and wider society to double down on ensuring that our future female changemakers and leaders see how vital their role will be in contributing to a better, fairer and more ethical world for everyone.

gdst lead showcase

All this brings me to April’s exciting highlight from our sixth formers; the final showcase of GDST LEAD (Leadership Enterprise Advanced Diploma) in partnership with the London School of Economics and Political Science. The partnership was created after a 2021 survey by insurance provider Superscript found that self-employed women lost around 20% of their income during the pandemic, compared to 11% for self-employed men. Three years later, GDST LEAD has evolved into an exemplar of how we prepare young women for a future in which they do not just survive, but thrive. The programme teaches our students about the ever evolving world of work and equips them with the essential skills to navigate a life of careers, rather than a career for life. It provides them with firsthand experience in founding a sustainable business and opportunities to develop leadership skills and entrepreneurship. Importantly, our students also learn about navigating workplace issues such as managing unconscious bias, how to negotiate a pay rise or shared parental leave.

Our girls’ understanding of the world around them and the impact they can make is unmistakably evident in the business plans submitted for their ventures – from Streatham & Clapham High School’s app that matches charities offering placements with student volunteers, Belvedere Academy’s beauty and wellbeing service for local refugee communities, to Croydon High School’s plan to boost connections between hearing and deaf children through a book and workshops. Each startup idea is rooted in a desire to create a better world for all. As teachers and educators, we are proud that this programme taps into our students’ instinctive need to create more ethical businesses, alongside developing commercial acumen. For instance, Brighton Girls’ cookbook enterprise, which features recipes from local restaurants and chefs, is forecast to make a profit of over £2,000, including £1,190 in pre-orders. Slice of Brighton is aimed at providing a cheaper alternative to eating out in light of the cost of living crisis and encouraging people to make home-cooked meals. The profits from this business will go to Community Kitchen, a local charity.

gdst lead showcase

Aside from our girls’ resourcefulness and ingenuity, the reason why GDST LEAD is one of our most oversubscribed programmes is the involvement of mentors who support and motivate our budding female entrepreneurs. Each academic year, a new group of women and men from a diverse range of business backgrounds volunteer their time to provide constructive feedback, problem-solving techniques and tips to inspire the students’ lateral thinking. My conversations with some of these mentors, who believe in young women’s potential to change the world and are active allies in our mission to achieve gender equality, serves as an ongoing imperative that to make a lasting impact, advocacy for girls and young women must continue outside of the school gates.

You might be surprised by the countless opportunities that come up in our everyday lives to champion girls and young women. For instance, when was the last time you challenged the wholly unsubstantiated stereotype that girls are inherently weaker at maths and science than boys?

Why is this so important? Because everyone benefits from a more equal world. It is in our collective interests to nurture the talents of girls and young women to be the very best they can be, and then for society to remove the roadblocks that still get in their way. Only then will we have gone far enough.