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Principal's Thoughts

When you ask young women today whether they are feminists, very few raise their hands. It is possible that the word feminism conjures negative stereotypes with which modern girls don’t wish to be
associated. Yet when you ask our students whether they believe in equal rights and opportunities for women, all agree. So is feminism still a relevant concept today?

This was the focus of the recent Alliance of Girls’ Schools Conference in Melbourne, ‘Images of a Girl: Diversity, Dilemmas and Future Possibilities’. School leaders from around Australia and New Zealand met to discuss the challenges facing our girls as they move into a 21st century workforce.

At Wilderness we tell our students they can do anything, that their voice counts and that with effort and ability they can achieve at the highest levels.

Our girls expect to lead. They graduate with high ATARS and succeed in almost every field of tertiary scholarship. This experience is echoed in recent educational statistics that indicate females are outperforming males at all levels of the school system, attaining more school and post-school qualifications and attending university in higher numbers.

It is a shock to our students that this success is not mirrored in the representation of women in the top echelons of leadership around the country. Even though women account for half of Australia’s total population, they comprise less than one-third of all parliamentarians in Australia. Only 13 per cent of companies have corporate female board members. Three per cent of ASX 200 companies have female CEOs. One hundred and eighteen years since women first cast a vote in this nation, there are still some public companies with not a single woman on their boards and many more with only one female board member. Clearly, though much has been achieved towards equality for women there is still some distance to travel.

We want the best for Wilderness girls. We want our graduates to take their place at the table as entrepreneurs, to be the heads of NGOs, chief executives of major companies and to be involved at the highest level of Australian policymaking. We know they have the capacity and the desire to play their part as leaders in shaping the future. Our challenge is to equip them with the insight and wisdom that will enable them to visualise themselves as strategic leaders and decision makers who are aspirational, whilst also recognising and addressing the well documented challenges that they will face as women in the workforce.

It is clear that women face harder choices between personal and professional success. Our girls will have to make difficult decisions in the future and will confront the challenge of combining career and motherhoodor, for some, choosing a singular pathway. We need to prepare them for the reality of the choices they will face as they leave the protective environment of school and family. We have to teach girls more about the choices they will exercise and how to tackle and interpret those choices, by opening up the age-old question; how do we nurture female talent and improve the participation of women at the senior levels while still enabling them to embrace rich and fulfilling personal lives? It is an important conversation and, dare I say, a feminist one!