Schools should teach more ‘nuanced’ view of feminism, Girls’ Schools Association president says

Gwen Byrom, GSA President 2018, in an interview with The Telegraph, 21 January 2018:

The mantra that female empowerment means “having everything and doing everything” is now out of date, according to Gwen Byrom, who is headmistress of Loughborough High School.

In her first interview since taking up the role as president of the GSA, she said that encouraging young women to aspire to positions of power is one of her top priorities in the post. But she said girls are held back by outdated ideas about what they should able to achieve.

“One message is that you can’t be a successful leader if you have children. The other message has been in the past that you can have it all, you can have everything and do everything,” she said.
“I think we are now getting to a more nuanced position [where] you can talk about the challenges that face families, and that face partners…if they have very busy working lives.

“How do women step up into leadership roles and balance those challenges? We are coming to that position – we are saying it is not about either/or and it is not about having it all. It is working out what works for you.  Rather than promising girls that they should expect to enjoy a high-powered careers at the same time as raising a family, it is more important to teach them about the challenges of balancing priorities”, Mrs Byrom said.

She added: “I think it is a conversation for students generally about their lives, how they will manage themselves and how they are going to manage their commitments over their life.”

Mrs Byrom, 47, said that the most powerful way for girls to learn about women in leadership is for headteachers to be open about how they manage balancing their own career and family life.

“In terms of being taught about these things, it is not necessarily that you would sit down and actively teach,” she said.

“It is about how you talk about your own situation. It is about being open about the challenges we face. I am a working mother, I took my last period of maternity leave while I was a head. That was obviously fairly visible.

“This is a very busy job, it is a very full on job, but I am still a mum and I can do both things. If the girls ask me how things are, if they ask me about particular situations, I will talk to them about how I manage things generally.”
Mrs Byrom, who has five children aged between two and 19-years-old, said that her “personal circumstances” mean that “talking about and promoting women in leadership positions is an important thing for me.”

She said: “I wouldn’t necessarily set myself up as a role model for the girls in my school – but they may look at me and say if the head can do it, if the head can have a family and a busy job, then maybe I can as well.”

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