A national charity is helping female role models to reach out to teenage girls from Brighton and Hove – not just on International Women’s Day today (Sunday 8 March) but every day.
The Girls’ Network has recently started working with pupils at Cardinal Newman Catholic School. The charity already works with Hove Park School and the Brighton Aldridge Community Academy (BACA).
The need to offer support was highlighted last month by Barclays boss Antony Jenkins.
He told the Sunday Times that too many teenagers were socially awkward and lacked the confidence to shake hands, make eye contact or even smile at a stranger.
The director of the Girls’ Network in Brighton and Hove, Rachel Carter, said: “In September 2014 a national charity was set up locally in Brighton and Hove following a successful launch in London two years previously.
“The Girls’ Network offers a mentoring programme to girls from the least advantaged backgrounds and, as in the Sunday Times article, it is clear that across the board, it is all too common to find girls held back by a lack of self-confidence.
“The ability to communicate is vital as is the right to speak and to be heard, which is more often knocked out of girls than boys.
“This is of particular relevance for girls from communities commonly undervalued and talked of disparagingly.
“Add this to the fact that those from the poorest families are more likely to have grown up in an environment where many of these skills and experiences are less common and their value therefore not necessarily understood.
“An expectation from the girls themselves, and often those around them, that they won’t or can’t go to university, get high-paying jobs or have the freedom to make choices about their future, can hugely impact on their self-esteem and perception of self.
“They won’t take risks for fear of failure. They do not put themselves forward for opportunities or recognise their skills and achievements.
“Mentors give girls the one-to-one support that helps to build self-esteem – because someone cares enough to give up time just for them and because they have new skills and experiences in which they can be confident, regardless of context.
“The mentors work with the girls to build confidence and communication skills. They support the girls to progress in practical ways – interview skills, personal statements, work experience.
“They talk about the importance of asking questions, of being curious, taking risks and embracing failure.
“All this encourages the participants to believe in themselves and build their social confidence.
“With increased confidence and self-value, comes a renewed energy to persevere when things get hard and a willingness to ask for help.
“At the midway stage in the current programme, girls took part in a speed networking event and there was clear evidence of girls’ demonstrating good eye contact, strong handshakes and being fully engaged and not being afraid to ask questions.
“The network also provides girls the opportunity to put this all into action – the chance to attend interesting events and meet inspiring role models, showing them that women can achieve just as much as men can and they should not be limited by their gender.
“The Girls’ Network is currently planning an event with local partners to give its girls access to potential employers and to practise these newly acquired skills.
“Girls have also been interviewed on BBC Sussex and shortly will be on Radio Reverb and undertaking new things that they could only have dreamt of.
“To support the important work of The Girls’ Network, you can do several things – donate, mentor, connect us to schools or sponsors.”
She added: “Research in the 1970s and 1980s demonstrated how girls ‘were marginalised in the education system, and systematically belittled and undermined in the mixed-sex classroom and playground.
“Policy, curriculum … and teacher expectations were shown to impact negatively on girls’ self-esteem.
“Despite a belief by some that the education has become far more ‘feminised’ and that education has gone ‘too far’ in empowering girls, in fact, research shows that the experience for girls has remain relatively unchanged – boys still dominate the classroom, and girls ‘continue to be devalued, and to devalue themselves’.
“This is reflected in the work place. Industries tell us that they cannot recruit more women because often women do not have the appropriate qualifications for the role and those who do often fail to put themselves forward.”
It seems appropriate on International Women’s Day to highlight this work and the appeal for donations, contacts and mentors.
LIKE WHAT WE DO? HELP US TO DO MORE OF IT BY DONATING HERE.