🔥How to Help Girls Rule
Issue #10, 10.16.2022
Guest Contributors: Susan Antolin and Bridgette Ouimette from Advancing Girls, LLC (adapted for How to Navigate Life newsletter by Belle Liang, Tim Klein, & Lily Konowitz)
🔥How to Help Girls Rule
According to psychologist Carol Dweck, “If life were one long grade school, girls would rule the world.”
There is no question that girls rule school. In the United States alone, they’re graduating from high school, and enrolling in universities and post baccalaureate programs at higher rates than anyone else. (In fact, in a future issue, we may write about how to help boys do better in school.)
The International Day of the Girl Child is an opportunity to consider how girls are faring in the world beyond school. One would expect that all their stunning achievements in school would catapult them into the top leadership positions nationally and globally. But instead, they continue to lag far behind.
In the US, women occupy 27% of positions in the House of Representatives and Senate, and 33% of the Supreme Court despite being 57% of the US population.
Of the 193 countries that are United Nations member states, only 12% have women executives.
In all sectors of global industry (except tech), women only occupy 23% of chief executive roles.
Although more women than men are the “highest performers” and “most distinguished” for their work, there are significantly fewer women than men in leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies.
So, it’s clear that girls do not rule the world. At least not in political or corporate worlds. And their lack of representation in leadership positions reinforces messaging to girls that they do not belong in them.
Why is there such a huge chasm between girls' leadership in school versus the world beyond?
Many of the skills girls gain in the traditional K-12 classroom aren’t transferable to the political and corporate arenas they’re competing in.
While girls are out-achieving others in school by earning good grades and performing well on standardized tests, they are sacrificing mental health. This is especially true for affluent and high-achieving girls.
Girls are socialized at home, school, and society in ways that often reinforce gender inequity, and ultimately prevent them from becoming world leaders.
While boys are socialized to demonstrate confidence and take risks, girls are sent the message that they should be compliant, avoid risks, and fit cultural expectations about their appearances, rather than their abilities.
Girls do not rule the world because it is not one long grade school.
So, by the time they get to the workplace, girls’ socialization and efforts at perfection in school have taken a terrible toll on their well-being and their preparation for the workplace. How can we reverse engineer girls’ school experiences to preserve their well-being and give them a shot at gender equity in the workplace? What should K-12 schools do differently to help girls thrive beyond school? And what does the world stand to gain from girls’ leadership?
As an Honors US History instructor at a competitive all girls school, Bridgette Ouimette relishes a memory of her students playing a review game at the end of one semester. There was no prize at stake, no extra credit points to be earned. It was pure, unadulterated fun. There was screaming, snorting, and friendly fire over the proper rules of charades. Bridgette had set the stage for these self-conscious and grade-conscious students to lighten up and take some risks. These students were great at earning A’s and could color coordinate, highlight, and outline just about anything. But the “skill” of getting in front of their peers and letting loose--looking imperfect--was not in their repertoire.
While the world continues to socialize girls to strive for “the ideal,” and hang their worth on outward appearances and outward signs of success, how can teachers, parents, and other mentors encourage the lessons that lie at the heart of far deeper success? How do we provide the permission and opportunity for girls to practice being imperfect, messy, sweaty, silly, and spontaneous. These lessons involve learning to take risks, and learning to fail. These all important skills enable students to persevere when they’re striving in the workplace for higher stakes goals than straight A’s and class games. These are the skills that will position them as leaders in government and industry.
Former high school humanities teacher, Susan Antolin, leveraged nontraditional courses, such as Speech & Debate and Leadership to teach her students similarly valuable and lasting skills. Girls were given a platform for speaking and persuading others as their authentic selves. They shared their personal stories and perspectives, embraced their identities, and exercised true leadership in a safe space. They used their voices to impact change beyond the parameters of the classroom. They spoke with conviction and credibility while connecting with others through compassion. They looked for opportunities to be challenged and to take risks in the pursuit of initiating change.
One student who was reticent about public speaking found her voice while making a case in speech class about body image standards. Her speech was published in a national magazine. She crossed the threshold from a great student to a transformative leader. Transformative leaders often have transformative teachers. And this girl’s teacher encouraged her students to view leadership as an action and not as a title or role. The reality is that by societal standards, titles help leaders lead. And so it is troubling that there remains such a great gap in the number of women in leadership roles in government and industry.
The International Day of the Girl Child provides an opportunity for a heart check. Are we supporting girls to grow beyond successful students to successful leaders in the world beyond the classroom? We all stand to gain when we advance girls. Advancing women and girls improves the economy, and social, environmental and public health outcomes.
🧭Get Your Bearings
How can schools, teachers, mentors, and parents make a difference in girls’ lives?
Alleviate achievement pressure by discouraging them from over-focusing on short-term goals like grades and college admissions and instead helping them connect to their purpose.
Provide growth-fostering mentoring relationships. Whether through formal programs or informal opportunities, connect girls with leaders and role models.
Train in best teaching practices for girls. Schools/districts should create opportunities for teachers to learn instructional strategies and curriculum design that question systems of gender inequity, rather than reinforce them.
Check your bias. Train educators to confront their own implicit gender biases and shed light on how they impact relationships with students, and students’ leadership trajectories.
Adopt dedicated and measurable programming/initiatives that help girls to develop leadership skills.
🌴The Scenic Route
Because sometimes we need to slow down and enjoy the ride.