In a recent TED Talk titled ‘It’s a good time to be a girl’, the campaigner and financier Dame Helena Morrissey gave an upbeat assessment of some changes that are occurring in our society – and how women are likely to be the chief beneficiaries.
First, even though change is coming too slowly for many, Dame Helena believes the momentum towards increased diversity in the modern workplace is unstoppable. This will mean more women in leadership roles; but it will also mean that all leaders will embrace greater diversity of thought, perspectives, and styles of working.
Knowledge and technical skills will always be important in the workplace, but as technology becomes ever more sophisticated, there will be increasing demand for emotional intelligence, creativity, interpersonal skills, and the ability to work in a team.
In addition to this, the average life expectancy in the UK is increasing all the time. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says that 1 in 5 girls (and 1 in 8 boys) born in Britain today will live to 100 years of age; and the average life expectancy of the current crop of 11-year-old girls is 90 years (87 years for boys).
This means that the duration of people’s careers will increase; it is likely to span 50+ years for current and future school children.
Dame Helena says this change will herald new career patterns which will break down standard chronologies. Increasingly, women (and men) will select when and how their careers evolve rather than being constrained by societal conventions.
This is all part of a general picture which is emerging – whereby people’s roles in society will evolve to accommodate personal preferences rather than society’s expectations.
Like Dame Helena, I believe this is all good news – but especially so for women, who should find more options become available to them as greater flexibility and opportunity reaches into the workplace and into wider society.
The increasing role of technology in all aspects of our society will also be a major driving factor towards increased flexibility and choice – especially in terms of how, where and when we choose to work. Many have already witnessed these changes as a direct result of the pandemic.
I believe that an all-girls school like Downe will prove to be highly effective at preparing young women for this brave new world.
Downe is brilliant at nurturing the attributes that will enable our pupils to thrive as society adapts and – provided we continue to evolve and keep an eye to the future – we will do so for many years to come.
What makes me so confident?
Downe’s distinctive ethos enables our pupils to develop confidence and character. If they are comfortable being themselves at school, they are free to focus on their learning and general development and will enter the adult world as well-rounded individuals.
Since starting at Downe nearly one year ago, I have been very impressed by the aspiration and focus within our single-sex classes, as well as the girls’ ability to learn from both success and failure.
Outside the classroom, I also see a greater willingness to get stuck into a wider range of activities: in my experience, many of them are less inhibited and less circumspect than pupils in co-educational settings.
I like the fact that in our all-girls environment, a girl occupies every role; there is an implicit assumption that girls will take on positions of responsibility and leadership. And when the opportunities come to them, the pupils are very good at embracing them without cynicism or arrogance, and with very good humour.
All the way through their years at Downe, our pupils see role models – leading assemblies, taking on leadership roles, running House activities, setting the academic tone, speaking out on a variety of topics that matter to them. This empowers all girls to take ownership of the opportunities given to them.
Three Downe House events which I attended recently typify this ethos brilliantly, and I have not witnessed anything like them in the four co-educational schools where I have worked previously.
The hilarious, imaginative, idiosyncratic, and playful nature of Happy Day was fired in part by the pupils’ lack of inhibition and their willingness to have a laugh together.
The DH Links Entrepreneurs’ Evening showcased how bold, imaginative, articulate and fun our alumnae are – and, as they testified at the event, they attribute much of their chutzpah and success to the confidence bestowed on them by their alma mater.
The Foundation Farewell Dinner for the current Upper Sixth was a moving testimony to the affection our students feel for their School, as well as its sense of community. Our guest speaker, former Head Senior Marina Sykes (DH 2010), captured perfectly the combination of trepidation and excitement felt by the girls as they enter their final chapter at Downe.
These unique features of Downe will equip our girls for the changing landscape of the world beyond the school gates.
Mr Matthew Godfrey