Changes in society means girls should not put any limitations on what they can achieve. After all, says the Girls’ Day School Trust Chief Executive Helen Fraser, ‘having it all’ is now the norm
When I attended our annual Young Leaders’ Conference at the end of September 2014, I was encouraged by the dynamism and confidence of our Year 13 student leaders. Over 130 girls from across the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) took part in a two-day challenge to devise a marketing and fundraising strategy for one of four national charities. The results were a credit to their ability, but their questions for the panel of female experts highlighted a desire for clarity in relation to their future roles, both personally and professionally.
Over the course of the weekend, these girls gained valuable leadership experience including teamwork, communication, negotiation, problem solving and financial management. Tapping into the confidence they exhibited while completing their respective tasks is something the GDST works hard to deliver at every age and stage of our girls’ education. When it comes to deciding which career is best for them, our staff are there to ensure each student’s academic and pastoral needs are met, not least in terms of the best way to manage the competing priorities they will face in later life.
Fortunately, most women no longer have to choose between having a family and pursuing a career. It was therefore particularly interesting to note that the second question to our panel was how our experts – round-the-world yachtswoman, Tracy Edwards; Chief Executive of the Chartered Management Institute, Ann Francke and myself – combined motherhood and work. Our answers were, as you might expect, tempered with a degree of self-deprecation but, in a nutshell, we all agreed, while you can never get everything right, that shouldn’t stop you trying.
As I pointed out in my speech, the outdated 1950s notion of ‘having it all’ is a remnant from a past we are fortunate to have left behind. A past where high-flying women at the Foreign Office had to resign their posts when they got married, and where women who wanted a job, a partner and children were considered greedy rather than ambitious. For girls on the cusp of adulthood, being presented with a choice between having a career and a family can easily call into question their aspirations, particularly when it comes to career progression and leadership roles.
At the end of the weekend, I left with an overwhelming feeling of optimism. Not only for what these talented and highly resourceful girls had achieved, but for the futures they are about to shape. Equipped as they are with an awareness of their place in society that their predecessors struggled to harness, I have no doubt these young women will be the leaders of the future. It goes without saying that I wish them every success, but I also hope they can look back on their school days as a time when they realised that living life to the full is a challenge to be savoured rather than a test to be endured. This is something we would all do well to remember, however long ago we wished our alma maters farewell.
Helen Fraser is Chief Executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust – read more at gdst.net