“The future is female.”

Forbes. Feb 7 2023.

These were the opening words of the conference that the Head Girl Team, Mrs Randhawa and I attended on Thursday 28th September at Benenden School, which we were invited to as a member of the International Coalition of Girls Schools. We heard a range of speakers from Amber Atherton, a tech pioneer and star of Made in Chelsea, Pentathlete Olympian Georgina Seccombe MBE, Baroness Manningham-Buller LG DCB, the former head of MI5 and last but certainly not least HRH The Princess Royal, all giving their perspective on female leadership.

The experience was truly inspiring and these are the answers the Head Girl Team gave to the question “Which piece of advice or inspirational comment will help you to be a leader in the future, who said it and why is it important?”

Daisy:  ‘Make it easy for people to thrive’. In one of Baroness Manningham-Buller LG, DCB’s closing comments she advised us on a crucial element of leadership; value. Every member of a team should be praised and valued and given the optimum environment to succeed, all of which start and come from the leader. As the ex-head of MI5, Baroness Manningham-Buller had learnt the best way to get results from her staff was to put trust in them and back them, so they knew they were supported.

She told us of a story of how one of her staff said ‘If I fail to save someone, I will resign’. In her response; ‘you are implying it is your fault someone had died and not the terrorist. If we did not do something that could have saved lives, then I will be the one to resign, not you’. I thought this was an incredibly important story to tell, particularly when she says she will take the fall for the team, simultaneously and selflessly reassuring a doubting staff member, a sign of a great leader.

I hope that one day in a leadership position, those with and around me will feel a similar sense of support and worth, enabling them to thrive easily.’

Jewel: “The leadership shown by the strong women at the symposium was inspiring. It was a wonderful opportunity where I had learnt so much about public speaking and being a leader. In particular,  Dame Didi Wong was very impactful. Her talk consisted of advice on public speaking and the steps you need to take to become a confident public speaker. Her talk was incredible but the key moment I still remember was her close: she quoted Maya Angelou saying ‘people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’. I believe that this was powerful as emotions and our expressive nature as humans is what connects us to other individuals. She also said that she aims to make ‘strangers into allies’ whenever she enters a room, which is equally as important. She highlighted aspects of public speaking that I hadn’t noticed before, after her workshop I had appreciated the difference small yet notable factors such as body language can have. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from the many accomplished women I had heard from that day and will apply their advice for upcoming leadership opportunities.”

Jemma: To me, it was the words of Baroness Manningham-Buller that I found most inspiring. In the conclusion of her speech, she said that leadership is only lonely if you let it be. These powerful words resonated particularly with me as they not only highlight the importance of lifting each other up in order to achieve a shared goal, but they also remind me of the support and teamwork within the Head Girl Team. Knowing that we can rely on each other for support in every endeavour is truly incredible, and I hope that these words will inspire others to reach out and ask for support in their many leadership endeavours!

Molly: “The most influential piece of advice that I heard at the conference was from Baroness Manningham-Buller, who emphasised the importance of allowing yourself to make mistakes in leadership. She pointed out that it can be easy to be harsher on yourself than you would be on others, and instead stressed the importance of accepting past errors and learning from mistakes.”

Aishani: “There’s a small, insecure girl in my mind who’s been conditioned to always doubt herself. It felt as though Dr Amy Jadesimi was speaking directly to her when she said , ‘Know how valuable you are to the world. Your voice is so enormously important that when it’s not part of the conversation, it will lead to disaster’. This statement had been preceded by a number of statistics that, when pieced together, painted the clear picture that the very presence of women in leadership positions is hugely beneficial. Our very way of thinking, of collaborating and leading is more sustainable, efficient and profitable; part of the reason our economy and our planet is where it is can be explained by the stark absence of female leaders.

Confidence has always felt like arrogance to me. It’s been trained into me by a world that labels confident young girls as loud or stubborn or arrogant. Over the years it’s taken a lot of work, and the unshakeable confidence my friends and family have in me, for me to put myself forward for leadership positions – I would not be writing this as a deputy head girl if not for their endless patience and kindness towards that scared, unsure little girl.

A lot of invaluable advice was given on Thursday, but this one, I have turned over in my mind repeatedly since then. It’s the one that I will repeat to other young women and girls. The way that women have taught each other to think, collaborate, and lead has made us essential. So we must not be afraid to be leaders that are fiercely and unapologetically confident and loud, because our voices are unspeakably powerful.”

Sam: “Amongst all the brilliant speakers we heard from, there was a particular keynote speaker, Amber Atherton, entrepreneur, who said something which immediately caught my attention: ‘You never send out just one email.’ The context of course is necessary, where she was explaining how when you are seeking out potential internships or opportunities, you should always be persistent – ‘never take no for an answer’.

 However, I felt that her message could be applied to all aspects of being a leader. For me specifically, and I’m sure for many girls out there, I was taught to wait patiently for an opportunity, never make a fuss, and if someone rejects you, simply nod your head and move on. However, seeing such a brilliant, accomplished woman telling me to not just reach for my dream, but grab hold of it and make sure it’s mine – made me realise that I should not suppress my own wants to appease others. That it’s okay to seem annoying, because in reality you are pushing for what you want, and you should take nothing but pride in that. Be tenacious, because in order to succeed you don’t just need brains or brilliant ideas, but to be unapologetically determined. You should not just rely on fate and that every good thing will fall into your lap, you must grab it.”