When we ask girls what they want to be when they grow up—or perhaps more accurately, about “all the different things they might want to do” or “what problem they want to solve”—what sorts of answers do we hear? Often times, we will hear aspirations such as a teacher, a dancer, a doctor. But what about a computer programmer, research scientist, or president?
No matter their age or background, girls envision their future based on role models they can see—because when they see it, they believe they can be it. That’s part of what makes Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day on April 25, such an important opportunity for children and young adults to think imaginatively about their future.
The foundation administering Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day notes in its mission to encourage children to “dream without gender limitations.” That’s of crucial importance: We must be educating today’s girls to succeed in any role they choose—even ones that don’t yet exist. Part of doing so is offering exposure to career paths in a variety of roles, from the lab to the classroom, from the board room to the c-suite.
There is no doubt women have made significant progress in the workplace, but there’s still plenty of work left to do. Consider that women make up just five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, and they are broadly underrepresented in many senior leadership roles in most industries. However, it’s not for lack of ambition. Globally, 74 percent of women in junior or middle manager positions aspire to higher leadership ranks, including top roles like CEO. To see greater progress, everyone must be making an effort, both women and men. It’s been shown that workplace mentors or “sponsors,” who truly advocate for their mentees, can have a tremendous impact on leveling the playing field.
Yet, supportive mentorship needs to be happening long before women enter the workplace as adults—it needs to start at formative ages, in the classroom. In my work in girls’ education and as Executive Director of NCGS, I’ve seen first-hand the power mentorship can have. Peer role modeling has a profound effect on young girls, especially when that role model is female.
For instance, recently released research shows graduates from all-girls schools, when compared to their coeducated counterparts, have higher levels of self-confidence in STEM fields—specifically, girls’ school alumnae report greater confidence in their ability to use technical science skills, understanding scientific concepts, generate research questions, and to explain the results of a study.
Why is this? I believe in part, it’s because girls’ schools have no glass ceilings. There are no assumptions about what girls like or prefer, because no one is telling them certain skills or subjects are “just for boys” or that they’re too difficult to master. Everyone is held to the same expectations. And at girls’ schools, younger students can see their older counterparts excelling in those same areas and subjects—allowing them to more easily develop the confidence to do the same.
Young girls need mentors who break free from stereotypes and model leadership, agency, and self-efficacy. Because no matter what she wants to be when she grows up, a young girl needs to know—not just think, but truly know, deep down—she won’t let anything stand in her way. Starting from a young age, we must embrace girls and their unique capabilities for what they are, not limited by what society expects them to be. Girls must receive the message that there are no limits to what subjects they can study or what career they can pursue. When girls and young women see strong female mentors and positive role models first in the classroom and in their school community, and later in the workplace, we can help better prepare them to tackle their future with confidence and imagination.
All of this is why organizations and schools should embrace critical opportunities like Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. It’s part of how we can help our girls discover positive role models, to better help them become confident adults. Our future is in the hands of our children, and it’s our responsibility to offer them positive opportunities to dream and think imaginatively—without gender limitations—and to shape their workplaces, their communities, and the rest of their lives.
Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools
Related tags: Advancing Girls, All-Girls Environment, All-Girls Schools, Building Self-Confidence in Girls, Developing Girls as Leaders, Girls in STEM, Leadership, Mentoring Girls, Role Models, Single-Gender Education, STEM, Self-Agency, Peer Role Models