Having spent the past 10 years working with women from all walks of life and teenage girls my learning curve on female empowerment has been fast and furious! And my conclusions are not always pretty or comforting. What I know for sure is at the moment our classrooms are not bursting with girls excited at the prospect of a corporate job and even the bright girls destined for blue chip careers are ill prepared for what lies in wait for them at the misogynistic bear pit that is, University or on the first rung of the ladder that will see them earning less than their male counterparts on day one, let alone as they attempt to make it in a testosterone fueled culture. We may have opened the door to opportunity over the past 100 years but we are failing to equip our girls with aspirational hammers or the resilience needed to make it in the 80/20 world we still inhabit.
Moreover, in 2014 The Future Foundation interviewed 500 girls across the UK and concluded they are failing to reach their full potential because they are suffering from low self esteem about how they look. One in four girls between the age of 11 – 17 are weighed down by the pressure to conform to an ideal notion of beauty and now spend more time on their appearance than they do on their homework, on a daily basis. This is going to have a disastrous effect on our economy. This research predicts that by 2050 this national teen identity crisis could cost us well over 300,000 future business women, lawyers, doctors, 60 MPs and who knows how many entrepreneurs.
And it’s not just the eternal goal to look like a Barbie doll that is disempowering them – early sexualisation, social media, porn, reality TV and a toxic media that tells them they cannot have it all unless they look hot and remain the principal child carer and a good wife, all play their part.. This challenging landscape demands super powers to survive, unharmed!
So as successful, professional women what questions should we be asking and where should the focus of our attention be? Simple – on the development and promotion of real role models in the workplace. Women who can show them a better way, who are pioneers of creating a workplace that values women and female leadership. Moreover, we need to let girls know we see them, hear them and understand the challenges they face; support them, challenge them ,educate them, inspire them and nurture them.
But here’s the deal – unless we stand up and demand equality, have zero tolerance on workplace sexism, campaign for more affordable childcare and family leave, create more equal relationships where domestic chores and childcare is seen as a joint responsibility , dump Little Miss Perfect, The People Pleaser and Superwoman and start asking, the outlook is not likely to change anytime soon.
Now is the time for gumption and courage not playing it safe. If we do not lift as we climb and change the corporate environment we risk turning off a generation of bright girls and this talent pipeline we invest a huge amount of time and money securing will be empty.
At the moment we all play a part in disempowering the next generation. They may not be listening to what we say but you better believe they are watching what we do.
For the big picture on this subject plus Jane’s personal story make Diva Wisdom – Find Your Voice, Rock Your World and Pass it On! your next read