At an important moment in women’s history, girls’ schools play a vital role in fostering the next generation of women leaders.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate some of the critical, recent gains that women have made in our society.
Before the 116th U.S. Congress was sworn in in January 2019, no more than 84 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives had ever been filled by women. That number now stands over 100. Women today outpace men in earning their bachelor’s degrees. In the workplace, they’re asking for promotions and negotiating salaries, and staying in the workforce at the same rates as men.
These gains are important—but to truly understand why, they must be placed in the right context. Consider these statistics:
- Women still make up just 25 percent of the U.S. Senate, 23 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives, and 31 percent of Canadian Parliament.
- Of the 193 countries ranked by percentage of women in national government, the U.K. is 39th, Australia 48th, Canada 62nd, and the U.S. 78th. All ranking considerably below the top five countries of Rwanda, Cuba, Bolivia, Mexico, and Sweden.
- 740 million women globally make their living in the informal economy with limited access to social protection, public services, and infrastructure.
- Women make up only five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and they remain broadly underrepresented in senior leadership roles.
- Only 26 percent of university presidents in the U.S. are women.
- Among the largest global non-profits, a slim 19 percent are led by women.
A gender gap still clearly exists in leadership positions. As girls and women across the globe face new obstacles and challenges, the existence of fearless, visible role models is invaluable. But do we have enough of them?
We are at an important moment in the ongoing story of women’s history—women continue to fight against pervasive media stereotypes and expectations about how they should look and act. The revolutionary #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have revealed the scale and scope of everyday injustices that women in all walks of life have faced and continue to face. More and more young women leaders are speaking out and taking action—and the world is finally listening.
The next generation of young women must be empowered to seize this momentum to make a lasting impact. And that’s why it’s so critical that we continue to listen, to foster, and to amplify the voices of girls and young women everywhere.
Girls’ schools make a difference, because girls’ ability to discover their inner courage to lead and make an impact, starts early. Nearly 87% of girls’ school students feel their opinions—their voices—are respected compared to 58% of girls at coed schools. At girls’ schools, students are not just encouraged, but expected to speak their minds, without interruption.
I am sometimes asked if all-girls schools somehow shelter students from the real world. To the contrary: It’s been shown that girls feel a greater sense of respect at girls’ schools, which enables them to better find, hone, and then use their voices, first in the classroom, and then beyond—in board rooms, on the political stage, and in any other arena. All-girls educational environments help negate stereotypes about what girls like or where they excel and provide opportunities for girls during a critical time in their growth and development. Not only do girls receive numerous avenues for self-exploration and development, they also see a wealth of peer role models. Girls need to “see it, to be it” to make them more aware of the possibilities in their own lives and help set them on their own brilliant paths.
The best way for young and adolescent girls to establish their convictions, and then to develop the confidence and tools to be heard, is to be part of an environment that is characterized by leadership and integrity, agency and self-efficacy, and community and collaboration. It is how girls learn to hear their own voice and acquire the skills to know how to use it effectively. The purpose of girls’ schools is to provide that environment. And in that way, girls’ schools have an invaluable role to play in helping shape the next generation of women leaders.
Today’s moment is both exciting and sobering, bringing to light how many challenges and obstacles remain to be overcome. But it’s also a point where real, lasting change can be made. It’s more relevant than ever to educate girls with self-agency that will help them move forward confidently, while being nimble to address the challenges they face.
Most importantly, fostering girls’ voices is not just a job for their fellow women, and it’s not just a job for educators. It’s everyone’s responsibility to teach girls how to hone their voice and to use it. Then we must listen to what they have to say.
Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools
Related tags: All-Girls Environment, All-Girls Schools, Claiming Your Voice, Cultivation of Voice, Developing Girls as Leaders, Developing Voice, Empowering Girls, Gender Gap, Girls' Schools, International Women's Day, Leadership, Political Voice, Role Models, See It To Be It, Single-Gender Education, Women's History, Self-Agency