Anything is possible. Don’t be held back by stereotypes and predetermined paths that others may have considered right for you.
It isn’t always easy. It never is, for men or for women. In the advertising industry, where I worked for over 20 years, reaching London CEO of Ogilvy, fewer than 15 per cent of creative directors are women, even though women make up nearly half of employees in the sector. Not only that, but well over half the buying decisions are made by women.
It’s not just in advertising that this sort of disparity exists.
It also exists in the computing industry. Computing started out as a very welcoming place for women. The first computing language, COBOL, was written by Grace Hopper, who went on to become a rear admiral in the US Navy.
Dame Stephanie Shirley set up a company called Freelance Programmers in the early 1960s, specifically recruiting women with families and fitting work around their other responsibilities; only one percent of her first 300 employees were men.
And, as we all know now from the film Hidden Figures, the computer programmes that successfully landed men on the moon were written by women.
But some things seem to be going backwards.
You would think that new industries, in the digital world, would be free from the legacy of older professions. Instead they seem intent on replicating the same bad habits: paying women less, and promoting them less too. While companies like Brainlabs challenge this culture, recent revelations of potentially discriminatory practices at Uber, Oracle and Google have shone a new, and not very flattering light, on the sector.
In so many ways, the 21st century we live in is still a man’s world. But, thankfully, things are changing.
One of the reasons I wanted to work with the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) is that it’s a place where I feel I can make a real difference. I feel that the stars are aligning to make a gender-equal society more of a reality.
We need more women to be involved in developing the technologies that will shape our future lives. And one way we can make a real difference is by ensuring girls can play a full role in the digital world. We find that girls are as able, enthusiastic and committed as their male peers; in a girls-only environment, there are no subjects that are seen as the preserve of boys, so girls are encouraged to embrace stereotypically ‘male’ subjects like computing science.
In the US, according to Girls Who Code, 66 per cent of girls aged 6-12 are interested in taking computer science classes, and, by 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing related fields. So it’s clear we need to focus on junior and primary schools and tap into girls’ early potential.
We encourage our pupils to take on digital leadership, and our 2017 GDST Digital Leaders’ Conference showed just how effective this can be. Over 200 students, aged from 10 to 18, gathered from 22 schools across the Trust, along with 60 teachers and mentors for a day of inspiration and digital and entrepreneurial challenge. The brilliant and inspiring women at the conference were as far away from the stereotypical image of a (usually male) computer nerd as it’s possible to be.
This is just one of many initiatives in our schools to harness digital technology. Over the past few years we’ve run an app challenge to get girls to design and develop their own mobile apps, and a 3D printing challenge too.
We want girls to understand the potential of technology to make a meaningful difference in the world, and to realise that they have as much right and as much talent to build a career in digital technology as their male peers.
Schools nationwide, like GDST schools, do their best to encourage girls to study computing at school, and to apply for IT courses. It is now up to the industry itself to step up at every level and train, recruit and retain more women, pay them more and promote them more.
I believe that, if we can enthuse every girl from an early age, the future will be truly female.
About the author
Before joining the GDST in 2016, Cheryl had a long and successful career with WPP, the marketing communications group, running three of its companies, her most recent role being CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising agency. Before this, Cheryl was European President of Landor Associates, and CEO of Coley Porter Bell.
As Chief Executive of GDST, Cheryl’s vision for the charity is to become pioneers in, and shapers of the future of girls’ education. She aims to provide inspirational teaching and outstanding pastoral care, enabling the girls to reach their potential. Cheryl is passionate about helping to create female leaders and leading a renaissance in girls’ education. She believes that education is the key to developing happy, confident young women and who can fulfil their dreams.
Cheryl enjoys mentoring and coaching, supporting young women either informally as their mentor or through WACL (Women in Advertising and Communication London). She was previously involved with Fearless Futures, a charity that seeks to empower young women to become leaders in society.
Cheryl was born and brought up in South Africa and has a BA in English, Communication and Psychology from the University of South Africa.