With International Women’s Day 2023 just around the corner, we wanted to spotlight some of the incredible female leaders in the Scottish independent school sector.
In this blog, Carol Chandler-Thompson, Anna Tomlinson and Tanya Davie, Heads of St Georges School, St. Margaret’s School for Girls and Kilgraston School respectively, share their thoughts on gender equity - the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day - the importance of female leadership, and what schools can do to raise empowered young women.
Carol Chandler-Thompson, St Georges School, Edinburgh
What can schools do to promote gender equity?
“There are so many things schools can be doing to promote gender equity. As St George’s is a single-sex environment, it provides us with fantastic opportunities to address the lack of equity that many women experience once they leave school. We create an environment as free from gender stereotypes as possible. The role models our littlest girls see on the sports field, in CCF uniforms, speaking in public, will all be female. From the earliest stage, they understand what they can achieve and aspire to.”
“As the girls get older those role models might be leading female professionals talking about their career path or challenges they have faced in male-dominated industries. Honest and open advice about how that feels and what has helped and supported them can be incredibly empowering.”
“This year’s IWD theme of ‘Embrace Equity’ has given us a brilliant opportunity at St George’s to think about the different challenges and opportunities faced by women from all different walks of life. We have an inspiring TEDx event planned to mark IWD 2023 around ‘Voices of Possibility’. It is incredibly inspiring for young women to hear voices they might not normally hear from in school.”
What do you think is the biggest issue facing women in the UK right now?
“The issue that really keeps me up at night, is that of gender-based violence. The World Bank estimates that 35% of women worldwide have experienced gender-based violence. Globally, as many as 38% of the murders of women are committed by intimate partners.
“This was brought home to me very recently by the death of a close colleague Emma Pattison who has received wide press coverage. Figures like this can be overwhelming, but I think we have an important role as teachers and parents to help young people (boys and girls) understand what a healthy relationship looks like, what consent is and how to be able to express their views and feelings openly and clearly.”
What is the best piece of career advice you have been given?
“If not you, then who?”
Anna Tomlinson, St. Margaret’s School for Girls
What does gender equity mean to you?
“Gender equity for me is when people of all gender identities are able to shape their life and career and are offered the same opportunities, including education and leadership roles, without their gender being a factor.”
Which women do you most admire?
“There are many women I admire, not least those who have forged a successful career in fields where women are still under-represented. At St Margaret’s, we take every opportunity to introduce our students to such individuals. For example, just last month a former pupil, Professor Sinead Farrington, shared her love of physics with Primary 6 and 7 girls at an event for International Day of Girls and Women in Science."
“For me, the individuals I admire most are people who face up to the adversities of life and remain true to their own values, willing to learn, grow and contribute through and in spite of the challenges which life presents."
“A couple of years ago at one of our Inspirational Women events at school, I had the privilege of interviewing Melanie Reid, writer and columnist at The Times. Since 2010 when she fell off her horse and broke her neck, Melanie has written Spinal Column in The Times Saturday Magazine. Her book The World I Fell Out Of is an account of the almost full year she spent in hospital working hard to find a way through a life which had changed beyond recognition."
“Melanie’s writing is incredibly honest and moving and had already been the focus of more than one school assembly before we met. It was a joy to talk to her in person: she touched many members of our school community by encouraging those of us with well-functioning bodies to appreciate all that we have and to put aside any traditional ideas of beauty in the human body.”
What can schools do to promote female leadership?
"From an early age providing girls (and indeed all young people) with opportunities to take responsibility and to contribute to both the school and wider community is vital in developing young leaders."
"At St Margaret’s, older pupils who are already fulfilling key leadership roles and are being seen to make a difference are powerful role models for their younger peers. A great example of this was our recent Culture Week, which was organised and run by sixth year pupils from our diversity discussion group. This has inspired other girls to put forward their ideas and to take the lead in upcoming Neurodiversity Celebration Week events."
"Furthermore, schools can support the development of emotional literacy, empathy and communication skills, thus helping young people to become self-reflective and compassionate leaders.”
Tanya Davie, Kilgraston School
Why is it important to have female school leaders?
“I’m not sure I would agree that it is important to have female school leaders as this excludes the influence of strong male leaders and we all have a part to play in educating the next generation irrespective of gender. What I would say is, that it is important to show young women what we are capable of. This is by showing them strong female role models across different fields.”
What can schools do to encourage gender equity?
“The destinations of Kilgraston leavers are just one area where we are witnessing long-held barriers being dismantled and broken down and this is something I am incredibly proud of. Every year around half of our pupils go on to study STEM subjects at university; subjects which typically were dominated by men. This is what gender equality should look like; a world in which people are not inhibited or put off following their dreams and achieving their goals.”
How can schools inspire and empower young girls to be leaders?
“We need to show our young girls that we believe in them and give them the opportunities to dream and to lead."
“Our Sixth Form pupils have this when they take part in the Young Enterprise Scotland competition. This is a nationwide event aimed at young people and giving them the confidence to set up and run a business. Last year, the team from Kilgraston won our regional final, and we have high hopes for this year’s team. It is a fantastic opportunity for our older pupils to utilise and put into practice some of what they learn in the classroom, and I have seen first-hand how it inspires and empowers them to lead and dream big.”
Thank you to Carol, Tanya, and Anna for contributing to this blog.