Inspired by: Girl power

Last week I attended Ancient Worlds, a conversation-slash-debate between historians Bettany Hughes and and Michael Scott at the Royal Institute of Great Britain. It was an hour and a half of expert perspectives and audience questions on the state of politics and its relationship with the ‘truths’ about history that we think we know.

One of the things that particularly piqued my interest was Dr Scott’s mention of OECD’s PISA – Programme for International Student Assessment. This is designed to sit outside the boundaries of school curricula to determine how well the world is preparing the next generation of 15-year-olds for global citizenship. Whilst I’m not a fan of the current levels of academic testing particularly in early school years, I do think that something that takes a global view – both a omnipresent look and a cross-cultural sampling – is important. I was also encouraged by the website’s claim that the tests are

“designed to assess to what extent students at the end of compulsory education, can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society.”

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be a part of a similarly forward-looking approach at a local secondary school. Presentation Matters! was a half day programme for more than 200 Year 9 students designed to help them articulate their ideas and present themselves in life – from addressing larger groups and performing well in job interviews right through to talking with friends and peers.

In groups of 4-5 , the students were asked to come up with a two minute presentation aimed at Year 6 students and their parents to inspire them to attend the school. There were a couple of formal talks on presentation structure, content and delivery but in between, the girls were despatched to compile, practice and present their story – in a Semi-Final round – in their form groups. The best group – voted by their peers – went into the Final which meant presenting to all of the Year 9 students, teachers…and us.

I was one of 21 business volunteers who worked with the form groups coaching, encouraging and keeping things to time. I’ve worked with adults in this capacity before but never teenagers and I found the prospect of working with the 27 teenage girls in the form, let alone the 200-odd in the wider group, just a little terrifying. (Seriously, my props to teachers!) And whilst I wouldn’t say that I felt entirely comfortable at any point, our little team of three muddled our way through the morning and managed to conduct a Semi-Final with a) everyone in the form presenting and b) to a pretty good standard. (Boast Note: We worked with the form group that produced the winning team presentation in the Final. Not that I’m at all competitive…)

Back in the hall, in watching the seven finalists, I was struck by what an amazing opportunity this was for these young women. And they responded in kind – showing both great courage in presenting in front of such a large group and commitment to doing it well – with some pretty impressive presentations. It seems that despite the absence of political leadership over the last few weeks, the willingness to step forward, to give your best and to represent others lives on.

Girlpower past and present

London’s nod to girl power past and present: (left) Statue of Emmeline Pankhurst – leader of the suffragette movement – at the entrance to Victoria Tower Gardens, near the Houses of Parliament and (right) the Memorial to Amy Winehouse –  a unique female voice in modern times – at Camden Lock Market

I was also struck by the generous (and rather raucous) encouragement from all of the girls – there was a real sense of camaraderie, even girl power, in the room and I just loved the fact that I’d gotten the opportunity to play a small part in it all.

So on an historic morning in June – when, through democratic process, the nation charged government with the task of leaving the European Union – I felt inspired. Perhaps we need to give the next generation some credit as a pretty capable set of hands in which to place the future, whatever it may hold.

The F Word…

This week my world has taken on something of a feminist flavour. 

Not that I am not a feminist – I am.

(I am also sure that there’s a better way to deal with that double negative. Go ahead – comment away!)  

I didn’t actually plan it that way but when I look back there has been a definite theme to the events I attended, the things I learnt and the conversations I had. Might be the planets aligning, might be a raising of my feminist consciousness. Might be my current musings about what my future might look like. Who knows. But over the last four days there has been a lot for me to consider about the future of women.

On Wednesday, I listened to some amazing women (and one man) explore women’s roles in our modern world at the Women in European Business Conference. It featured an excellent panel discussion, an interview with the always fabulous Joanna Lumley and a fascinating 45-minute presentation from Harvard associate professor and social psychologist, Amy Cuddy on shaping who you are – literally. It was an inspiring night and it was thanks to the ‘oh I’ve double-booked’ mistake of a work colleague that I got a guernsey. And what did I take away from all of this? That there are many, many choices about my future, many potential pathways to explore and a myriad of conversations to have. Oh and a potential place on the invitation list for next year’s event.

On Thursday, I listened to a lively discussion on the Pinkification of Young Girls at Selfridges as part of The Beauty Project. This was the last in a series put on in partnership with Intelligence Squared who always offer controversial topics and provocative panelists and with the future of the world’s female population firmly in their sights, Alannah Weston, Tiffanie Darke, Tanya Gold and Katie Hopkins launched into a litany of opinions about the dangers (or not) of a rose coloured world and the potential of a ‘princess’ generation. 

It seemed to me that we came no closer to any answers and whilst it was an interesting discussion, it meandered around for a while then finished all too quickly. In the end, it did transpire that encouraging a questioning mind, a breadth of choice and a sense of confidence in our women of tomorrow were the keys – and also some of the prevailing themes from my previous evening’s WEB Conference. How on earth this is going to happen, I have no idea but that the topic continues to raise in profile is generally deemed a positive thing. But is it enough?

On Friday morning I listened to a less-than-seven-minute TED talk from Dan Gilbert called The Psychology of your Future Self. (You may have noticed over the last few posts that I am having a bit of a love affair with TED talks at the moment.) Anyway, Gilbert postulates that we all under estimate how much we will change in the future and he uses some really clever ways of demonstrating that our heads really are buried in the sand when it comes to envisioning our future selves. Think about who you were, what you were doing and what was important to you ten years ago. Then think about how much you think you’ll change in the next ten years. Doesn’t it stand to reason that the rate of change will continue? Well, apparently reason has nothing to do with it but given my recent reflections about what might lie before me in the next 40 or so years, it seemed another fitting piece to add to my puzzle.

And finally yesterday, when I opened this week’s Mental Floss newsletter, I discovered that LEGO will release a new series featuring female scientist figurines this coming August. Hurrah! (Imagine hooray in the posh, clipped syllables of the English.) The LEGO Research Institute set will show women exploring the world from three different angles – chemistry, paleantology and astronomy. 

Image source: https://ideas.lego.com/projects/15401

And not a skerrick of pinkification to be seen. Double hurrah!

The concept was submitted by Dr. Ellen Kooijman, a geochemist from Stockholm who, despite entering her concept last year, may have tapped into the zeitgeist by encapsulating the sentiments of Charlotte Benjamin, a seven-year-old girl who wrote a widely publicised letter to LEGO in January admonishing the toymaker to ‘have more LEGO girl people who go on adventures and have fun.’ 

So while the rate of change might seem snail-paced to those of us who are firm believers in gender equality, it appears that all it takes are the words of a seven-year-old to create a little momentum. At this rate, just imagine where she could be in ten years time.

So as I sit here on the comfy couch, tap-tap-tapping away and reflecting on the week that was, I am definitely left with some positive feelings about the whole feminist issue. But it still seems like we still have one hell of a mountain to climb and while I lean towards the side of a bright future ahead, I think that the visibility remains poor and the path ahead uncertain. Not only for the women of future generations but also for those of us struggling with how to create a world of choice and equality now. 

And it leaves me wondering just who and where I might be in all of this in ten years time.

Bears some thinking about doesn’t it?