The Girls’ Network is an award-winning charity that inspires and empowers girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a network of positive female role models. To celebrate National Mentoring Day, Carole Muriithi showcases the work of The Girls' Network, inviting you to share in its mission to widen, enrich and diversify the pool of role models girls have access to.
The Girls' Network
At the beginning of the one-to-one mentoring programme, we ask the girls, “If you could have any dream female mentor, who would it be and why?” In response, we often hear names like Taylor Swift, Rihanna and Kim Kardashian. While we recognise these women are successful artists and business women, these are often not the reasons given as to why the girls admire these celebrities. The girls celebrate their physical attributes, rather than their professional accomplishments.
The girls tend to draw from a limited pool of role models who are valued for their, often stereotyped, public personas and image. When we look only to women who dominate mainstream media as role models, this creates a single story of what a successful woman looks like. At The Girls’ Network we strongly believe that you cannot be what you cannot see. If you grow up seeing a limited narrative of what women can do, then the assumption is that those are your only options. So, when women in the public sphere are valued only for their physical appearance and not their goals, ambitions and thought, what message does that give to the next generation of women?
The Girls’ Network aims to widen, enrich and diversify the pool of role models girls have access to. By joining our network, the girls are introduced to their very own female professional mentor. Dedicated to raising awareness of the opportunities out there. Showing them that - although often largely under-represented - inspiring female role models exist in diverse spaces. Be it in board rooms of top financial firms, reporting the news at the BBC or performing complex surgeries at Great Ormond Street Hospital. We have been lucky enough to grow our network of inspiring women, from diverse backgrounds, who are sharing their wealth of experiences with young girls. Showing them that they can be, and do, whatever it is they put their minds to.
A disproportionate number of girls are held back by a lack of self-confidence and self-value. A study by Girl Guiding last year revealed only 33% of teenage girls feel positive about themselves and their futures (Girl Guiding 2016). In addition, girls from the most economically deprived communities suffer a double disadvantage as so many are also held by a lack of connections and networks. Mentoring tackles these barriers simultaneously and has a proven positive impact on young people. Particularly in regards to behaviour, engagement, attainment and progression. Young people involved in mentoring have reported an increase in the likelihood of getting a job after education, deciding on a career and getting into Higher Education (Mann A. and Kashefpakdel, E. 2014). We have witnessed this first-hand. 75% of the girls, who completed the programme, now know professionals across 2 or more career areas. One of which tweeted, “I am now thriving at University, all thanks to @TheGirlsNet”. 96% of girls who have completed the programme stated that it has improved their confidence. One of which shared, “My mentor gave me new levels of confidence and without her, I would not have realised that what I really wanted to do after college was become an architecture undergraduate. I’m very grateful to have her.
The power of diverse female role models
There is unparalleled power in seeing and having access to diverse female role models. The number of women in senior jobs has stagnated and, in some cases, even reversed in recent years, particularly in specific sectors such as politics and STEM. Men outnumber women 4 to 1 in Westminster and only 21% of High Court Judges are women (Courts and Tribunals Judiciary 2017). The exclusion of women from vital positions of power, which shape the society in which we live, represents a huge barrier to the progress of women’s equality in the UK. However, with the support of their mentor and our wider network, girls are now accessing these spaces and the women who work in them. During our ‘Women in Westminster’ event, 60 girls in London received a tour of parliament, a session on entry into parliamentary roles and heard from senior female civil servants working in STEM. It is these experiences, compounded by one-to-one mentoring, that give girls the awareness, confidence and self-belief to aim high and think outside the box.
A current mentee recently shared, “When I met [my mentor], she asked me a lot of questions that have made me think why not? Why can’t I do this? I can! I can do whatever I want. The support she’s given me has been amazing. Obviously, I’ve got my parents but to have someone in that industry who has gone so far. It’s amazing. If I didn’t meet her I wouldn’t have grown anywhere near as much. I wouldn’t be at the college that I am at the moment either. I don’t know if I’d believe it if someone had told me I would be here a year ago”.
By connecting girls with women who challenge the statistics of gender representation, we aim to widen their pool of role models. Provide them with the tools to realise their greatest ambitions. Support them to successfully navigate the obstacles they will, and may already, face. It is empowering to watch as their horizons expand and it makes us hopeful for the future generations of women. Who will in turn act as role models for their younger generations.
Become a mentor with The Girls’ Network today: https://thegirlsnetwork.org.uk/get-involved
Carole Muriithi is Programme Coordinator at The Girls' Network.