Empowering The Next Generation Of Women
Originally published on The Huffington Post.
Empowered women can change the world. From the first woman who declined to say ‘obey’ in her wedding vows to the first female President of the Royal College of Surgeons, women are achieving personal and professional goals that are gradually altering our society. In both these examples, they were supported and encouraged by the men around them, and this positive partnership is also key to the transformation that so many of us welcome.
However, things are still a work in progress, as women continue to come up against a variety of societal pressures throughout their lives. They face more complex consideration sets when debating whether they should or shouldn’t strive for a promotion, consider a career break, be a certain body shape, maintain a specific work-life balance; the list goes on.
Even at a very young age, girls can be surrounded by expectations or phrases, encouraging them to ‘man up’ or teasing them for ‘running like a girl’, all of which have implied undercurrents relating to qualities of strength, stamina and courage embodied by traditional gender stereotypes, corrosive to self-worth.
For over 160 years, the community that I now lead has been at the forefront of girls’ education and I believe that in order to for women to thrive, despite life-long pressures of different kinds, and seize the new opportunities that can be created, it is crucial to nurture self-confidence in all our girls from an early age.
Far from coaching girls to follow a set path for success, which conforms to either traditional or modern-day expectations, we need to encourage our girls to develop independent thought and, whenever possible, immerse them in vibrant and tolerant communities where they can express and debate their views openly and passionately. This also means learning how to enjoy a challenge and to be at peace with decisions they make.
Developing this self-assurance in our girls will give them the confidence to decide when to push themselves, when to ask for help, when to stand firm and when to reconsider. There will be more numerous and more diverse role models for the generations of young men and women who follow them, bringing the ingenuity and imagination to social and professional spheres and offering the diversity of perspective that has been shown to be so productive.
Ultimately, if we can teach each girl the value of developing and living by her own definition of success, then our next generation of women will be equipped with the resilience to challenge, reshape and enrich our communities, the flexibility to navigate new paths, and the self-confidence to feel unashamedly empowered and fulfilled. Such women will be the mothers, partners, sisters, daughters and colleagues within our society, much better positioned to encourage and enable the same sense of meaning and purpose for everyone around them, regardless of gender.