Hilary French says no careers should be off-limits to girls

Gender stereotypes still influence perceptions of many jobs and careers, potentially causing girls to curtail their ambitions.

That was the message today from Hilary French, Newcastle High School for Girls, in advance of the Annual Conference of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) in London on Wednesday 10 June.

“Do a search online for images of chief executives, or surgeons, or judges,” said Hilary French, and you don’t see many women. Do a similar search for images of nurses, or child-minders, or personal assistants, and it will come as no surprise that there aren’t many men to be seen. These sorts of stereotypes permeate our national and global culture, and children can’t help but subconsciously absorb them.”

Newcastle High School is perfectly placed to nurture girls’ interests and ambitions in a safe and supportive environment, and it starts from an early age. In the Junior School, classrooms are named after women who have achieved success in their field, in Science, Sports and the Arts.

Girls of all ages have the opportunity to hear from speakers from a variety of careers, with the same clear message that there are no limits to what a girl can do or achieve. As the girls get older, practical advice on how to make it to the top is offered at Newcastle High’s biannual conference, North East Women (NEW) Leaders, which puts Sixth Form girls in touch with leading women in the region, providing ‘real’ role models who have confronted the status quo.

“It’s important that we consciously challenge these assumptions, added Hilary French.  “Raising awareness of different jobs at an early age enables girls to imagine themselves in a full range of roles, and not limit their horizons too early or too readily.”

The theme of this year’s GDST Annual Conference will be ‘Circles of Influence – enhancing employability and creating a culture of networking’. Delegates will also hear from speakers including Sacha Romanovitch, CEO-elect of Grant Thornton UK LLP and a panel of GDST heads and students – all of whom will address the issue and its implications for girls, women and wider society.

“Girls should feel that all doors are open to them,” concluded Hilary French, “and that’s what we’ll be discussing in our conference this week. If they feel they can achieve anything they set their mind to before they come into contact with unhelpful stereotypes, they’ll be less likely to be swayed by them. When it comes to their careers, I’m proud that Newcastle High girls write their own rules.”

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