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Jane Kenyon

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Female leadership: Role models rock!

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How do you engage young females to be future leaders. Jane Kenyon has a few ideas.

As a female champion I am delighted more and more businesses are getting real about gender parity along all levels of the talent pipeline. No-one is cheering louder than me for the companies that have recognised the undeniable contribution women make to the bottom line – the jury is definitely IN on that point. But and I am afraid it is a BIG but, as a teen girl advocate and someone who spends many hours a week mentoring and inspiring teenage girls let me tell you they are not all jumping up and down at the thought of a corporate career.

In fact, research carried out by an independent research agency, The Future Foundation in 2014 found girl’s confidence and self esteem at an all time low, with one in four weighed down by the pressure to conform to an ideal notion of what is attractive. Girls now spend as much time on their appearance as they do on their homework, on a daily basis. This, along with the self-harming epidemic (now one in four girls will self harm before they leave school), rising depression amongst teen girls, social media damage and early sexualisation and it’s not difficult to see the impact this is having on their aspirations. The landscape they are attempting to navigate through is challenging to say the least. This report concludes with the prediction that by 2050 this national girl identity crisis could cost us well over 300,000 future business women, lawyers and doctors and 60 MPs.

So what must we do? I urge big companies and all those who work within their supply chains to harness their female role models and march them into schools to help light the fires of aspiration. Young girls need to hear stories of real women and be inspired by success and possibility. If you have never met an engineer, a barrister, a software developer, a lawyer or a train driver how do you know what one is or does, let alone opt to follow this path?

We are losing our girls to a disempowering media, reality TV and celebrity culture. Their role model of choice is Kim Kardashian and they do not understand why this makes grown women cry with frustration and disappointment. 100 years of liberation for this?

However, we can take comfort in the knowledge that when they meet real women with real stories and real passion their horizons get bigger, their dreams move in different directions and they have something more substantial to aim for. Mentoring and interventions really work with girls this age. When we invest in our teenage girls they blossom, find their voice, respect themselves and learn to fly.

And this type of mentoring relationship is rich with learnings for both the mentor and mentee – Companies would be wise to start nurturing the female talent pool much earlier. We need to act and we need to do it now. Until we show girls a better way, their aspirations will remain invisible or ill advised and all our work pioneering to secure them a seat around the top table will be in vain as a quick glance behind us will reveal an empty pipeline.

Jane Kenyon, serial entrepreneur, coach, female champion and author of 'Diva Wisdom – Find Your Voice, Rock Your World, Pass It On!'. Explore the work of www.girlsoutloud.org.uk and find out how your company or clients can get involved in inspiring the next generation.

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