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Members of our alumnae and parent community working in education and academia gathered in with teaching staff from St Helen’s and our partner schools to enjoy an evening of discussion and networking.

Headmistress Rebecca Dougall welcomed an expert panel – Dr Jill Berry, educational leadership consultant, Jill Duffy, Chief Executive of OCR and Dr Catherine Armstrong, Senior Lecturer at Loughborough University – to discuss a range of themes and explore the opportunities and challenges for women in leadership within the education sector and how to help them fulfil their potential.

Key takeaways

Introverts in senior roles; authenticity in leadership

Many female introverts may struggle with the idea of seeking a leadership role. Jill Duffy, a self-confessed introvert, believes introverts have many qualities to become great leaders and inspire the people and teams they lead. The panel discussed methods to empower female introverts in the classroom all the way to the board room.

The importance of mentoring, networking and work place practices

The panel were positive about many measures, especially in sectors such as educational publishing, to encourage women into leadership roles. This may be as a result of improved work place practices and policies that benefit all employees, including flexible working.

At senior levels across education, however, males still dominate. Jill Berry felt that in terms of leadership, a great job had been done at schools and undergraduate level, but that within academia, more needed to be done.  Catherine agreed and highlighted the fact that good mentoring support is available for women through early stage career mentoring within academia, but that beyond that there is a sense of expectation that ‘you’re on your own now’.

“Strong female role models are crucially important; if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

Preparedness for the job market, building resilience, accepting failure

Dr Catherine Armstrong spoke about some of the challenges for young academics in a highly competitive sector. For many career paths, she feels the higher education sector is doing a lot more now to prepare students for the ups and downs of the world of work, but that greater resilience and assertiveness needs to be gained by females from young age and throughout school.  The idea that women tend to have a greater degree of self-doubt which can so often hold them back was a recurring theme throughout the evening. Jill Berry was keen to stress that women (and girls) need to move away from the idea that they have to be perfect. The panellists and audience seemed in agreement that ‘Imposter Syndrome’ can be a problem that hold women back across all sectors.

“Introverts get the work done and can inspire people and teams. They are often among the most authentic and collaborative leaders.”

Relevant books and podcast recommended by panellist and guests:

  • The Squiggly Career - Helen Tupper
  • Boys Don't Try - Pinkett & Roberts
  • Girl Up - Laura Bates
  • Untangled - Lisa Damour
  • Quiet - Susan Cain
  • Podcast: Don't tell me the score - Matthew Syed.
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