We had a good session on Tuesday evening with Year 10 girls and their parents where our new school governor, Bella Sankey, and GDST Director of Education, Dr Kevin Stannard, spoke about the power of an all-girls’ education at Sixth Form. In his talk, Kevin referenced the 2017 Girls’ Attitude Survey commissioned by Girlguiding UK which found that from as young as seven, girls are deeply affected by gender stereotypes. While, as girls get older they become slightly less likely to let pressure from stereotypes alter their behaviour (except when it comes to how they behave around boys) still around half feel a need to conform to stereotypes of what’s expected from them. And while over a third aged 11 to 21 say gender stereotypes make them feel more determined to succeed, for a significant minority, gender stereotypes negatively affect their confidence and make them feel worried about the future
These pessimistic perceptions can linger in adulthood. Almost three-quarters of women working in UK higher education believe that men have a better chance of achieving a leadership role: 72 per cent of women surveyed for a study published yesterday by the Aurora initiative (a programme which supports women in higher education leadership) felt they were less likely to gain a leadership role than a male colleague, despite 80 per cent saying that they had the confidence to seek out opportunities to lead.
One hopeful thing the Girlguiding survey did find was that girls are definitely inspired by role models who challenge and overcome stereotypes. I’m not sure, however, that the solution lies in an initiative I read about this week. According to ABC NewsMatt Burt, a graphic illustrator, has re-imagined all the Disney princesses as ‘career women’. He says he purposefully chose to show the princesses in traditionally male-dominated fields. Thus we have Sleeping Beauty who’s now the CEO of a coffee company, Elsa and Anna from ‘Frozen’ who become climate change scientists and Snow White who’s a therapist, “drawing inspiration from her relationships with the Seven Dwarves.” Mr Burt told ‘Good Morning America’, “The Disney princesses are more than just characters to many people. They have become cultural icons and influential women that others look up to. I hope these will serve as an inspiration for others to pursue their dreams.”
Really? Is this the best we can do? Women and girls need real role models and they need them at all stages of their lives, from school to higher education; from re-entering the workplace after having children to mid-life career changes. The challenge for parents and educators of girls is not just to provide strong role models; it is also to create a climate where girls recognise the benefits of women’s mentoring and networking and are encouraged to take advantage of the support of other women throughout their careers. At BHHS we are very fortunate to be able to start this journey as members of the 70,000-strong GDST Alumnae Network. Read about its potential here.