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The people working to inspire confidence in a generation of young girls

Siobhan Eke. Photo: Bill Smith

Siobhan Eke. Photo: Bill Smith

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Instilling self-esteem and encouraging young girls to aim high is a focus for schools, charities and, of course, parents. Lauren Cope speaks to 
those working to build a generation's confidence.

Kirsty Von Malaise, headmistress at Norwich High School for Girls, speaking at an Inspiring Females conference. Picture: Eastern Lightcraft/Rob YeatmanKirsty Von Malaise, headmistress at Norwich High School for Girls, speaking at an Inspiring Females conference. Picture: Eastern Lightcraft/Rob Yeatman

Studies, whatever weight you give them, tell us that girls are quieter at school than their male classmates.

Whether it’s putting their hands up less, or staying silent in discussions, it’s easy to see why early years are seen as key in encouraging young girls to shake off insecurities and grow their self-confidence.

Inspiring Females, launched last year, is a programme by Norwich High School for Girls which sees students listen to speakers, take part in question and answer sessions and have one to one sessions.

Kirsty von Malaisé, the school’s headmistress, said its goal is to enable girls to “grow further in confidence” and explore various worlds of work.

An Inspiring Females conference. Picture: Eastern Lightcraft/Rob YeatmanAn Inspiring Females conference. Picture: Eastern Lightcraft/Rob Yeatman

“It is well researched that men will apply for jobs if they feel they fit half of the criteria, and women will be much more cautious about putting themselves forward,” she said.

MORE: These are some of the inspirational women changing lives in Norfolk

An Inspiring Females conference. Picture: Eastern Lightcraft/Rob YeatmanAn Inspiring Females conference. Picture: Eastern Lightcraft/Rob Yeatman

“It is critical that girls today can grow in confidence, with a good knowledge of their own strengths. We also know from research 
that gendered self-limitations start very young.”

She said girls today were “not short of ambition, aspiration and spirit” and added: “I am inspired myself daily by what young women achieve.”

But she said: “Recent research indicates that young women tend to choose more established career ambitions, which may ultimately limit them. Given that young people are going to need to be very agile in the future careers market, we need to be equipping them with the skills and knowledge to pursue the vast array of new jobs in various sectors. “So, say, where girls might aim towards becoming doctors, we also give them knowledge of all the different opportunities that lie in science.”

She said Inspiring Females also helped young women become “aware of potential challenges in the workplace”, and that, this year, they hoped to bring men into the conversation.

An Inspiring Females conference. Picture: Eastern Lightcraft/Rob YeatmanAn Inspiring Females conference. Picture: Eastern Lightcraft/Rob Yeatman

Siobhan Eke, a local educational entrepreneur who helped found Inspiring Females, said a survey of more than 300 girls from six different schools revealed that roughly 70pc said they wanted help with self confidence and self esteem.

She said: “Girls are under fire all the time and often bombarded with pressure from early on. It’s difficult for girls to know who they should be, and it’s also difficult for schools to get messages across because they already do so much.”

She said their speakers presented an honest picture of working life - for example, she said, it was important to reflect that some choose to stay at home with children, and struggle to stay on top of their often numerous roles.

“In the 1980s we were constantly told to have it all - but it’s a huge oppression to keep telling girls that. We have to dispel that myth, which in itself takes pressure off,” she said.

MORE: What worries women in Norfolk?

“It’s not about saying you have to go to work and get a career, it’s about saying believe in yourself and you really can do anything. It’s about looking at things realistically, giving girls options and just having that conversation.”

We asked people to share their thoughts on what life as a woman in Norfolk and Suffolk is like today.

Mother-of-three Holly Blake, from Norwich, said, at times, she found the pressure of raising a trio of young girls “difficult to handle”.

“Things are better for women since my mum and nan, and even me, were born,” she said.

“But you can just look at the sexual assault allegations in the last few weeks - it’s great that people are coming out to talk, but there’s obviously still a culture where women are not respected.”

She said she placed value on raising her daughters to be independent and tried to stay away from typically feminine clothing, gifts and language.

“I tell my partner to be wary of how many times he tells the girls they look pretty or beautiful,” she said.

“There’s nothing wrong with it, but I want to make sure they grow up knowing that intelligence, personality and happiness are far more important.

“I think it’s the same for parents of both boys and girls today, there’s so much to navigate and it’s difficult to know whether you’re giving the right messages.”

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