Last week we held our London alumnae drinks in the offices of one of our alumna, Helen Wood (née Smith, BHS 1989), in the wonderful Covent Garden. This was an invigorating evening with alumnae sharing the stories of their own cherished school days, but even more importantly sharing their career experiences with one another. It was a fantastic example of “women supporting women” across the generations: from those who have forged high profile careers; to those 10 years in; and to those who are still at university. The old boys’ network has been around for generations, so it is lovely to see our alumnae sharing their wisdom with each other and encouraging their younger counterparts to be as ambitious as they have been.
London Alumnae Drinks event
Sadly the gender pay gap widened to 14.4% as reported in March 2023 (an impact of Covid and childcare costs) and that even pre-pandemic female graduates experienced a 7% pay gap one year after graduating, which grew to 24% after 10 years. Gender stereotypes about interests start early and cause gender disparities in the number of students taking subjects such as computer science and engineering. Stereotypes still persist that portray men as more brilliant or more inherently talented than women. Even in literature boys and girls prefer to write stories with male protagonists; at age 5, 70% of characters created by girls were female, but this falls to less than half by the time they reach 13. It is imperative we challenge these misconceptions and stereotypes, and that we have networks of women who can do this whilst nurturing and challenging younger generations not to accept the status quo.
Shortly before the Easter break, during the week of International Women’s Day, I was extremely fortunate to attend the Think Women event at the Institute of Directors, where a group of like minded individuals discussed the importance of international experience in a woman’s career and what barriers exist which limit women taking up these opportunities. I have been very fortunate to travel, live and work all over the world, and understand what benefits that has brought to my career and more importantly my ability to empathise, understand a range of perspectives and think in a different way. Though I also understand the difficulties of being a young woman travelling alone in certain parts of the world and latterly trying to move a young family halfway across the globe. We need to do more to support women to ensure they can seize opportunities when they arise and take on new challenges which push themselves out of their comfort zones.
As part of the conference, it was inspiring to hear from Dr Anino Emuwa, global women’s leadership expert and founder of 100 Women @Davos. Her advice for the next generation was as follows. Make sure you are visible; catch the attention of those who make the decisions. You want to be on the tip of the tongue of those who have influence, so when they are asked they say “I know just the person”. Make use of sponsors who can help you with your career. Articulate clearly your value and purpose; and communicate that well with others via the appropriate platforms. Try to summarise your unique value point into one sentence. You need to be creating content and don’t just communicate what you are doing now, but also where you are going. Finally, many opportunities arise through word of mouth, so get out there and network. We are so lucky here at BGS, to have such a wonderful group of alumnae who can help with so much of this from mentoring, to work the room events, to inspirational talks, to just being there for a quick conversation about degree courses or career aspirations. I am very much looking forward to seeing this community grow from strength to strength as each generation is here to support the next.
As Carla Harris, one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, said: “Nobody makes it alone. And it doesn’t matter how smart you are or how hard you work, somebody will have to carry your paper into the room because every major decision about your career from your promotion, to your compensation, to your assignments are made in a room behind closed doors where you are not present.” So I urge all BGS students to take this with them: seize the support from your teachers, parents and our alumnae as you start your journey, but make sure you give back once you’ve made it.