2017 ASGS Leadership Conference Report

Finding, developing and enthusing the next generation of girls’ school leaders

This year’s annual Leadership Conference confirmed our strong reputation for providing dynamic and valuable learning events. We enjoyed a diverse programme of key note presentations from high profile speakers and a variety of stimulating workshops.

Student leaders from Wycombe High School and Frances Bardsley Academy contributed to the opening remarks. They first shared  reflections of their personal leadership development journeys. They also reminded delegates that whilst there has been great progress with gender equality and significant expansion of opportunities for women leaders in many fields, barriers and challenges still remain , especially in STEM areas.

In their address, Joint Presidents Sharon Cromie and Julian Dutnall, highlighted the need, against a background of unprecedented changes in schools, for girls’ schools to collaborate, speak up and ensure the needs of girls are strongly represented. They celebrated recent successful work strengthening the impact and reach of the association and creating influential partnerships. Members were reminded of our future ambitions and plans to continue to raise the profile of ASGS, especially shaping education policy development. There was an enthusiastic vote of thanks for Julian as the outgoing president for his dedicated service and imaginative leadership. Jane Burton was introduced as his successor.

Suzie De Rohan Willner, CEO of  TOAST, the fashion chainthe first of the keynote speakers, spoke passionately about her varied career and her professional successes. She outlined key features of her leadership approach- showing kindness, nurturing talent, putting together creative and high performing teams. She stressed the need for women to develop and support each other in the workplace through positive networking. Ensuring women colleagues are given individualised quality feedback on their work performance to enable improvement and generate confidence is an essential step.

Dame Barbara Stocking, President of Murray Edwards College , Cambridge University also spoke on the theme of tackling inequality in the workplace and discussed issues of women’s learning in Higher Education. As one of only two women’s only colleges in Cambridge, Murray Edwards has been leading some interesting research projects. ‘Collaborating with Men’ research was born out of alumnae’s reported career and leadership experiences  and  has resulted in practical guidance for organisations on making workplace culture more inclusive. Currently the college is involved in researching undergraduates’  learning experiences – especially in Maths, Physics and Engineering, examining implicit gender bias in assessment and group learning sessions, considering ways with women students to build confidence, resilience and willingness to take risks. 

Dr. Marina Della Giusta, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Reading, in her keynote presentation argued energetically for the importance of more women engaging in her field. She talked about the gender pay gap and how women would benefit from a deeper knowledge of economics to be equipped to combat discrimination, be better at negotiation and achieve higher earnings. However, the discipline also needs to attract more women if it is to be relevant, to grow and to thrive.

Meanwhile, in the workshops, delegates had an opportunity to explore a wide range of ideas and initiatives.  Ian Wigston, Bright Field Consultancy, provided an update of the Mentoring programme for heads and senior leaders in girls’ schools being run jointly with ASGS and GSA representing the independent sector. Ian is co-ordinating the nationwide programme which harnesses more than 40 mentors from a variety of occupational fields who are working pro bono with future women school leaders .Participants work with mentors for two years and undertake a community project together. ‘The Times’ described the programme as ‘unique’.  Dr. Kathy Kingstone, Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, explained to delegates how the college is developing students’ leadership, entrepreneurship and academic excellence through its innovative Gateway programme. There is an element of the programme which provides outstanding  women sixth formers with opportunities for support with university applications and gap year experiences. Louise Douglas, Graffham Consulting, challenged delegates to manage staff talent actively and to undertake explicit succession planning, for school leaders and governors. Liza Coutts, Communications Director, St. Paul’s Girls’ School shared with our delegates the Dads4Daughters campaign that was launched in the school and  then nationally through GSA schools. Inspired by He4She, it is intended to encourage fathers to ask searching questions about their workplace cultures and to enlist fathers in the achievement of full gender equality in the workplace. Former HMCI, Christine Gilbert, Chair of Future First, explained the work of the charity helping state schools broaden their students’ horizons, showing them a world beyond their own. Its focus is using the power of alumni, to provide schools with relatable role models, mentors and networking opportunities. Heather Melville, OBE, Director of  Strategic Partnerships and Head of  Business Inclusion for RBS, inspiring advocate for diversity, presented a compelling case for  how business needs to embrace diversity in order to harness talent necessary for future success.

Finally, ASGS was delighted and honoured to welcome the last of our platform speakers, Baroness Hale of Richmond, who had made history only  four days earlier being sworn in as the first ever woman President of the UK Supreme Court. Lady Hale, spoke with humour and modesty about her remarkably distinguished career. Her story as a pioneer, realising ground- breaking achievements, was inspiring.  She reiterated the fundamental need for diversity and gender equality in the judiciary: “Diverse panels make the best decisions.”