These are exciting times for women and girls. Girls have never had more opportunities, and the momentum to create a more gender equality around the world has become unstoppable.
Girls are rightly positive about their futures. Today they are fired up, and it’s up to all of us to feed that optimism and give them the confidence to step out into the world and fulfil their potential, to make positive changes that will benefit everyone.
We have to thank teachers for their part in instilling this spirit in girls today. Every time I visit a school, I am awe-struck by the creativity and thought that goes into every single lesson. I see how girls are inspired and challenged in equal measures. I see them have fun and find a joy in learning. They leave school full of ideas and energy, ready to take on whatever challenges the future may hold.
When it comes to the world of work, all eyes are now wide open to the challenges that continue to face women. We are fully aware of the extent of the gender pay gap in this country, with reports this year that 78 per cent of companies pay men more than women. And just the other week, the excuses from FTSE350 companies for not having more women on the board were jaw-dropping – my favourite being: “I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment – the issues covered are extremely complex.”
Those of us fortunate enough to work with girls and women in the education sector know just how disgraceful statements like these are. Movements such as #MeToo show how girls and women today are taking a stand and won’t tolerate these attitudes any longer.
As educators, we have an exciting role to play in helping to shape the future for girls. Today, at the annual Summit of the Girls’ Day School Trust, I called on everyone to help play their part.
I believe confidence is key to unlocking this future for girls. All too often we see girls are held back by the ‘confidence gap’. From when they are born, girls and boys are socialised differently, spoken to differently and treated differently. This impacts on how we grow and develop, how we experience life and interact with others, how we value ourselves and how we experience the world around us. At school, this can mean we see girls hold back, not put up their hand, not push themselves forward.
Every teacher, whether working in a girls-only school or a co-ed environment, can have a huge impact in helping to build the confidence of girls. And I know many are doing this already. Even if girls appear to be outperforming boys in academic attainment, we cannot take it for granted that they have all the tools they need to believe in themselves and their own abilities, when the world sometimes can still seem to be against them.
If we remind girls all the time that they do have a voice, and that their voice matters, they will take even more inspiration – and action – from what they are seeing around them.
At the same time, we must build up girls’ resilience. I always say that it’s important not to wrap girls in cotton wool. We don’t pretend things are always going to be easy. In every lesson, we must encourage girls to take risks and to understand things don’t always turn out the way you planned. Because of this, I see girls ready to embrace life’s challenges, rather than be intimidated by them.
If girls are to storm new frontiers like never before, we have to equip them to create a better future, for the benefit of us all. I am passionate about giving girls the best start in life, so they are not held back by gender stereotypes and are free to take on any role they choose – fearless and ready to challenge the status quo.
I know that it is this generation that will change the world, for the benefit of everyone. I can’t wait.
Cheryl Giovannoni is CEO of the Girls' Day School Trust