Schools can raise girls’ aspirations by partnering with businesses (Guardian)
The absence of aspiration and understanding of opportunities that I see in some students from disadvantaged backgrounds – especially girls – is something I want to address directly. I believe the answer to the lack of female leaders within our society and businesses could partly lie with us in education, and we have found partnerships with the business community leads to stronger results.
At both our academies, Whalley Range high school and Levenshulme high school for girls, we have been lucky enough to be involved in the Inspiring Girls programme – part of a Business in the Community initiative with Alliance Manchester Business School. Almost 100 young women from six high schools across Manchester have graduated from the programme this year. We were particularly keen to get involved because it was an initiative that focused its efforts on encouraging girls of secondary school age to prepare for their futures.
International Women’s Day in March last year marked the start of our year 9 students taking part. One of the activities included in the programme was a day of workshops hosted at the business school. The day allowed the girls to get an insight into university life, and life as a woman in business.
After a welcome by the head of the business school, professor Fiona Devine, the students joined a range of optional workshops such as creative thinking, influencing people and personal branding, which were delivered by senior staff at the school. They then gathered together in the main lecture theatre to hear the life and career stories of women working in construction, finance, academia and pharmacy, which encouraged them to think about the paths available to them. They had the opportunity to ask questions to understand the challenges which had been faced and overcome by the speakers.
Sana Rafiq, one of the students who attended, says: “I really enjoyed meeting several women at the conference and listening to their stories. These stories really inspired me because I got to know a lot about them and how they became the women they are now. In particular, the struggles they faced – how they faced these and still reached their goals.”
Just one day of mentoring was extremely valuable to my students, and allowed them to think and plan for the future. The girls were bubbling with enthusiasm throughout the day, which spilled over into their conversations back at school. The main things that seemed to surprised them was the amount of opportunities and the level of job satisfaction in the construction industry, as well as the fact that a number of the speakers had been the first in their family to go to university. The theme of working hard and with determination to achieve your dream was a prevalent one.
Throughout the initiative I have seen a marked improvement in the students’ approach to work and their confidence in and outside of the classroom. We have been involved in various other workshops within the programme with students from year 7 all the way up to year 11. In year 7, for example, a wide range of women come into school and share their career route. The business school now provides regular speakers for this day. This particular day, however, seemed to have a profound effect and one that was commented on by staff in school and parents.
Jackie Fahey, deputy head teacher at Whalley Range, says: “[It] allowed the students to engage with some inspiring women, meet and work together with other young people and develop their employability skills.” Best of all, Fahey says, was that “the feedback from the students was incredibly positive and they said that it was an event that they would remember for a long time”.
It is essential for young people to meet individuals from outside their direct peer and family group – the value in this is huge. In particular, for the students, it can direct them to a path they didn’t even know existed. But it also benefits those in the business world who choose to get involved in initiatives like these, who have told us that they leave with a feeling of satisfaction and increased sense of purpose through this positive work with young women. This may then influence their own future career choices.
I do feel that the business community and education community has a responsibility to engage in these relationships, to embrace potential and drive forward our future leaders to truly blossom.