Balance for Better

Mary Ward believed “women in time to come will do much”. Now it’s time to Balance for Better

In the early 17th Century, our school’s Foundress Mary Ward, lived a life of religious devotion, whilst working to pioneer women’s education. I often wonder what she would think of today’s society and the progress made towards gender parity in education.

Mary Ward lived in an age when the Catholic Church considered women to be ‘weak and fickle’ creatures – limited to married life or cloistered religious life. She challenged the status quo – stating that given equal opportunities for education, there would be no difference in what women and men could achieve. Her vision is aptly summed up in the soundbite: “I hope in God it will be seen that women in time to come will do much”.

In the past 400 years, women have indeed achieved ‘much’. Key milestones – the right to vote, to own property, to access higher education, to enter the work place – have been hard won over time. Perhaps these significant achievements would be beyond what Mary Ward could have imagined?

Have we done enough?

This year’s International Women’s Day campaign challenges us to #BalanceforBetter. It recognises the progress made towards gender parity but asks us to work together to forge a more gender-balanced world.

As a leader in an all-girls school, I am mindful that our students enter a world in which, as young women, the odds remain stacked against them. The statistics on gender parity speak for themselves:

  • Women’s board representation in FTSE 100 companies increased from 11% to 28% between 2007 to 2017.(1)
  • In 2018, only 22% of senior leaders in the workforce were women.(2)
  • Women are underrepresented in STEM fields. In 2015, only 37% of students beginning tertiary education in STEM fields were women.(3)
  • The UK gender pay gap means women are paid, on average, 17.9% less than men (8.6% less for full time workers).(4)

Looking beyond our school, I am very aware that aspects intersect with gender – including race, class and ethnicity – which impact on the life chances available to young women in UK society as a whole. On a global scale the challenges look very different – with 130 million girls globally currently out of school and 15 million girls of primary school age who will never enter education.

Girls who can ‘do much’

As an all-girls school, our approach aims to overcome gender stereotypes and our students develop the skills they need to counter the challenges ahead. A St Mary’s education is full of opportunities which address gender parity, for example our girls:

• Regularly explore the achievements of women in different fields
• Gain insight into the rewarding and inspiring range of STEM careers
• Access plenty of opportunities to build their leadership skills and confidence

Of course we want our girls to fulfil their potential – to ‘do’ and be all they can in life. Every St Mary’s girl who goes on to shift the current balance – from taking a boardroom seat, to leading STEM research or directing a blockbuster movie – takes another important step towards gender parity.

Time to move forward together

Achieving gender parity is a much bigger challenge. It is important that our girls make space for other women to succeed too. As Maya Angelou suggests: “Each time a women stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

By encouraging qualities and values such as compassion, empathy, respect and fairness in school, our girls become active, responsible citizens, who leave us ready to question and give a voice to inequality and injustice. This is, I believe, how we can #BalanceforBetter.

If Mary Ward were here today, perhaps she might conclude that: Yes She Can ‘do much’ in life, more than I ever could have imagined, but now it’s time to push forward again, to Balance for Better.

Sources:

1. Susan Vinnicombe, Ruth Sealy and Anne Laure Humbert, The Female FTSE Board Report 2017 (Cranfield School of Management, 2017): p. 1.
2. Grant Thornton, Women in Business: New perspectives on risk and reward (2018): p. 11.
3. OECD, “United Kingdom – Country Note,” Education at a Glance 2017(2017): p. 4.
4. Office for National Statistics, Gender pay gap in the UK: 2018

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