21 November 2022
Hello and welcome to GSA’s 2022 Annual Conference, Future Female: Fearless & Bold.
I’m thrilled to be GSA President this year and to create a focus over these two days – together with my cohort of smart, intelligent, brilliant GSA Heads to explore, debate, challenge and open-up discussions – that centre around the unique place and power modern all girls’ schools have in the world.
Before I continue, I have important thanks to give: to GSA for creating this spectacular annual event that brings us all together, and to our sponsors Schoolblazer, easy4U, and Zeelo without whom we would not be able to be here, it is through working in partnership and collaboration with others who believe in the work of GSA that we are able to continue to champion the very best opportunities for our members, schools, and young women.
Welcome too to our press delegation who I am looking forward to spending time with, and speaking to, over the conference so we can keep bringing important stories into the light, keeping young women’s interests at the forefront, and continuing to advocate for the importance of girls-only education.
We all want the girls who leave our schools to do so as courageous, enthusiastic, risk-takers, with a clear sense of perspective and an inner resilience which will make them independent and see them through life’s difficulties – knowing that they will not just cope, but thrive.
This is how I start my weekly talks with prospective parents every autumn term. This is what I will speak to you about this morning, but my goodness, this is a much bigger story than that one short paragraph suggests.
Many students leave our schools each year with great academic results and get into their first-choice university. But, if this is ALL they have to show for 7 years at GSA schools, I know we are disappointed.
There is so much more to life in our schools than merely passing exams.
At a conference several years ago, I heard a speaker from the business world talk about what he looks for in new graduates or first-time job changers. He reported research across many businesses which ranked their top 10 criteria – and academic qualifications barely made it onto the list.
Businesses frankly take academic qualifications for granted. What they are looking for are more intangible skills and experiences: collaboration, cooperation, innovation, creative thinking, risk-taking, leadership and followership, teamwork, resilience, and empathy.
And so, when talking about my school, I focus on the things we offer which go beyond the curriculum and exam results. I am sure many of you do the same. These intangible extras make each school the special place it is. We may put different names on it: ethos, style, values, and ‘feel’. It is hard to define, but I genuinely believe it is the most important part of all our schools.
It wasn’t until recently that I realised quite how relevant this list is to WOMEN in particular. These apparently employable features are tendencies or attributes that girls and women often find more natural than boys and men. It is this which makes me say confidently today:
Working like a woman is a great way to work and live.
No one should feel they have to ‘be like a man’ to succeed in life.
And this is the crux of the GSA conference this year. Our theme is Future Female, Fearless & Bold, and we want to shine a light on:
- The Female Leadership advantage, and celebrate it
- The global benefits of more women and girls achieving their ambitions in the world
- The fact that feminine values are in the ascendant – an approach that everyone can use to make the world a better place
- Young women as catalysts for change, innovation, and transformation who can move us toward a more gender equitable world
- Vital feminine energy that harnesses empathy, creativity, collaboration, and being bold. Forces of intellect AND passion that will go on to make the world a better place, not just for women, but for everyone.
Girls’ schools are incubators of new and better ways of thinking and being. We all recognise the value of empathy, we understand the importance of ‘soft power’.
We all need to unleash our feminine side – It doesn’t matter what your gender is – everyone can work this way. I look around this room and I see several male Heads who I am sure recognise this in themselves and whom I know have their own commitment to allyship with the girls in their care.
If you don’t yet believe that our pupils will have more success if they forefront rather than suppress, their natural inclinations to relationship building, compassion, and support for one another, then I hope you will by the end of my speech.
I hope you will acknowledge the importance for girls of spending time in an environment that is specially created for them.
We already know that our schools foster the ambitions of creators, engineers, scientists, academic and business leaders, and future change-makers.
What you may not recognise is that within our schools today are pupils who will be the trailblazers who go on to make a real difference in how the world operates.
As Heads, both male and female, we are allies in respecting girls’ innate talents. We urge them to live a life that enables them to fulfill their ambitions, we nudge them to exceed these and not to be afraid of trying whatever interests them – to be risk-takers. We help them to realise that their innate skills and talents are what the world needs. They do not need to mould themselves to fit into a male-dominated world. Instead, we must build their confidence in being themselves – their best selves – because this is how they can be agents of change.
Much has been made of The Feminine Leadership Advantage, quite rightly. The benefits of more women and girls achieving their ambitions are remarkable in the world. The effects are tangible when women take their rightful place in the world.
The data is compelling. The research I draw on here is from a variety of reliable sources: UNICEF, McKinsey & Co, Harvard Business Review , and Psychology Today. Research from all of these organisations shows that:
- Firms with more women at the executive level (in the C-Suite as it is called) are more profitable. Going from zero to a 30 percent female share in C-suite positions translates to a 15 percent increase in profitability for a typical firm.
- A growing need for female ‘soft’ power in today’s world. Originally defined by Joseph S. Nye Jr., the former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, soft power is defined as “the ability to influence or lead through persuasion or attraction, by co-opting people rather than coercing them.”
It is important to note that soft power isn’t the exclusive preserve of women, but it is women who use it instinctively – working collaboratively through dialogue. Research shows time and again that women are excellent mediators and great networkers because they place so much value on building relationships.
Women also keep cool during crises. This may be why, during the pandemic, it was female leaders who were acknowledged to have been more successful in managing the impact of Covid. Countries led by women like Finland’s Sanna Marin and Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, were internationally praised for meeting the crisis head-on with scientific backing, breath-taking efficiency, and compassion.
Research further shows that COVID cases and deaths have been fewer in nations led by women than by men, outcomes that findings suggest are likely due to women’s more proactive and coordinated policy initiatives. We are talking about collaboration, cooperation, and shared success, rather than competition and individual recognition.
- A clear connection between women’s inclusion in a country’s leadership and that country’s prosperity and stability. Women leaders positively influence whole nations.
- When women participate in public life, they help to create more open and inclusive societies. It has been estimated that if all countries could catch up with the most advanced nations when it comes to gender equality, it could be worth $12 trillion worldwide.
- When women are involved in peace agreements they have a much higher chance of succeeding – a 20% increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least 2 years, and a 35% increase in the probability of it lasting at least 15 years. It is telling that, in conflict-affected countries, women’s share of parliamentary seats is four percentage points below the global average of 22.7%.
I find this data mind-blowing, don’t you? But we can go even further to understand what fearless and bold women achieve.
Organizations with high levels of female influence tend to embrace transformation and are more open to change. Female-led teams consistently score more highly on cohesion, cooperative learning, and participative communication. Goldman Sachs analysed 496 large US equity funds and found that female-managed funds outperformed their male counterparts amid the coronavirus-related market swings – perhaps cohesive and cooperative decision-making when it came to buying and selling shares, contributed to this success. Again – more cooperation, less competition.
Time and again we see proof that women are catalysts for change, innovation, and transformation.
Feminine Leadership Benefits Everyone
Female leadership styles are preferred by the general population and the influence of feminine leadership traits benefit everyone: being communicative, flexible, and patient.
Research that investigated feminine vs masculine traits, surveying 64,000 people in 13 countries discovered that:
- 66% of those surveyed thought that “the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.”
- 57% of those surveyed were “dissatisfied with the conduct of men in their country.”
Their conclusion? “In a world that’s increasingly social, interdependent and transparent, (…) feminine values are ascendant.”
Swathes of leadership experts recommend that leaders should display democratic qualities: less hierarchy, more participatory decision making and more delegation of responsibility. Women may epitomize these qualities, but these leadership styles and values are available to everyone of every gender.
Our Role as Educators
Our role as educators in this is vital because the fact is that the best education that champions girls’ skills, talents, ambitions, and self-belief, happens in girls’ schools, where we deeply value feminine advantage. We know our pupils all expect:
- to be listened to
- to be respected
- to be leaders
- to be involved in the decisions being made about them
This is how they grow in confidence.
Single-sex girls’ schools give their pupils space to grow into and to understand their true power, to experience the world as it should be, and to realise their potential and their ambitions without any preconceived or cultural pressures or ‘norms’. They are not side-lined or distracted by static white noise in a world so often dominated by the patriarchy, and one where gender bias is an ever-present undercurrent.
We are all aware of what can happen to female learners when they are in classrooms with boys – this is not new research data, but it bears repeating:
- Girls exposed to high-achieving boys in the classroom are apt to set their educational goals lower than girls not so exposed.
- Girls in classrooms with high-achieving females, on the other hand, are more likely to pursue educational goals and be ambitious.
- In general, teachers interact with boys more often than with girls by a margin of 10 to 30 percent, depending on the age of the students and the personality of the teacher. This is especially apparent in science and maths.
- When children learn with their own gender, they focus more on their studies, speak more openly in the classroom, and feel more encouraged to pursue their interests and achieve their full potential.
- Girls in same-sex schools are more apt to excel athletically.
In Single-Sex Environments:
- We empower our pupils to find and use their voices.
- We prepare them to protect who they are and assert themselves without changing their behaviour to please others.
- We help them to understand that they don’t have to ‘be like a man’ to succeed.
- We champion the best life chances for girls and young women by offering them educational spaces free of the gender bias and misogyny that is wearing women down in broader society.
- We make them stronger by strengthening their resolve and self-belief so they can go out into the world knowing their value, and act as agents of change and catalysts for creating a better world, by honouring, and enjoying their feminine power.
Educating girls is life-changing, lifting people out of poverty, growing economies, and saving lives. As a geographer, I’ve been learning this since I was at school: a child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live beyond the age of five and twice as likely to attend school themselves. Educating girls in the developing world has a significantly more important impact on society, health, and welfare than does educate boys.
At this afternoon’s Conference Service, the retiring collection will be in aid of a charity called The Wonder Foundation, whose mission it is to bring education to disadvantaged girls and women globally.
I want to end on a high this morning, as we launch into a Conference that will focus our attention on all sorts of ways in which women have been successful, sometimes against the odds, in their chosen field.
Take a moment to think about what it is that most excite you in your school. What gets you out of bed in the morning and fills you with joy when you see, hear, or experience it? I’ve been thinking about this rather a lot this year, as I contemplate a time when I won’t have access to the uplifting experiences we have day and daily in our schools – courtesy of our fabulous young people and their teachers.
For me it is the noise – I just love the fact that I run a noisy and lively school. I love that the girls are so chatty and excited so much of the time. I love that no one is there to laugh at them or make them feel silly when they do silly things. I love it when they spontaneously squeal in delight at something surprising they have just learned. I even love it when they get mad at each other and have a bit of a shouting match (not sure I’m allowed to say that…)
I love it when things go wrong and we can all have a laugh about it and enjoy the mistakes together – it is usually me making them, and in assembly, so that really makes them all laugh!
I love it when the Sixth Form arrives in school looking like they’ve been dragged through a hedge backward, in their scruffy trackie bottoms and hoodies, no make-up, and not a care about their appearance.
I love it when they make an almighty mess at a charity fundraising event, or a cake sale – I have to admit I also love it when they clear it all up again at the end – that’s girls for you!
We are on the cusp of a growing a new kind of power– feminine power – one that places intuition and empathy, creativity, and instinct at its heart. A human-centred approach to living that celebrates and harnesses empathy, creativity, collaboration, intuition, and being bold. Forces of both intellect AND compassion. We are the guardians of that power.
And lest you think that I am anti-male in all of this, it is my hope that people of all genders will come to realise (and I think they already are) that unleashing their own inner feminine side will be to their advantage.
The future is female, fearless and bold!