I had the pleasure of speaking to the year nine and 10 students at an all girls high school this week about my career.
The girls were polite but attentive, engaged but intimidated.
For a quarter of a decade, I have been speaking at any school that has expressed an interest, diary permitting. It’s something that I prioritise, given the need for role modelling of senior women in business and leadership roles. I am a firm believer that you don’t know what you could be if you don’t see it.
I call it Visible Leadership.
It’s especially significant in a week where Women In Media released a report showing a “significant disparity in the number of male and female sources and experts in news”. The report, conducted in conjunction with Isentia, found that male experts quoting on a range of subjects from industries as diverse as finance, sport and politics – outnumbered women more than three to one on average. In some industries the result was even more alarming than that: only 7.6% of expert voices on sports matters are female and only 15.1% in politics.
When we are constantly reminded, via the popular media, that leaders and experts are more likely to be male, the message reinforces the status quo. Risk-taking women will go for it anyway, but risk-taking women are the outliers rather than the majority. And for parity in leadership roles we need the majority of women to be going for it.
So my advice to the high school girls this week was to say yes and work it out later, just like the majority of boys do. Embrace opportunity. Follow your heart all the way to the pinnacle. Don’t stop short of the top just because no woman has even been there before you.