Girls outstrip boys academically at school and they’re more likely to go university – yet they earn less than men from the outset of their careers. Maybe it’s time to go back to the classroom…
At the all-girls South Hampstead High School, headmistress Vicky Bingham is tackling the issue head on. Role models for her charges range from guest speakers including former MI5 director Dame Stella Rimington and BBC news presenter Mishal Husain, to alumnae who regularly return to give career advice talks and speak at prize-giving and assemblies.
The school is part of the Girls’ Day School Trust, and Sixth Formers can link up with the trust’s 70,000-strong network of former pupils from its 25 member schools, through a new mentoring app.
According to Bingham, while girls readily understand the importance of working hard at an academic level – something that is being demonstrated nationwide by GCSE results – they are often not made aware of the importance of the many other initiatives that could help them to further their careers. To make sustainable, systematic change to achieve equality, there is no quick fix. Support to girls is essential, but institutional changes will have a greater impact. As Business in the Community states, this is about changing the system, not the women. This certainly applies to initiatives in schools, so it is encouraging to see how they are trying to address such problems with better exposure.
“From their very earliest years,” says Bingham, “girls at our school learn to question. We prepare young women to live and thrive, work and lead in tomorrow’s world.”
Alumnae in their early careers are particularly important in inspiring girls, she says, especially in the male-dominated fields of tech and other new emerging industries. The closer to their own age the role models are, the more readily schoolgirls will identify with them.
The school’s Futures Programme includes regular lunchtime talks on careers in, among other things, the Army and digital marketing, “insight days” at blue-chip companies such as Rolls-Royce and Siemens, and summer school STEM courses at Russell Group universities.
Debating skills, which develop the art of winning arguments, are also nurtured. Bingham, who has held an assembly on how to ask for a pay rise, believes debating is arguably the most important co-curricular activity a school can offer, especially for young women.
“Learning how to persuade is not just useful for debating competitions, but is critical for building skills you might need later in your career,” says Bingham.
The article first appeared in the ‘Change the Culture’ supplement of The Times newspaper on 24th April 2019.