Breaking the Mould - Women in Leadership


A few weeks ago, a group of sixth-formers including myself were asked to sing at a conference in London. We were given few details, (except that 250 headteachers, and Madonna might be there) and very little time to rehearse for it. We didn’t even know where it was or whether there would be the use of a piano there. Yesterday we were minibussed to the Foreign Office in London, and I have to say, it was one of the most interesting experiences in my life.

I think there were about 12 of us altogether in the choir. I didn’t know most of them because they were in the year below me, but a couple of my friends were going. At 10am we met in the music room and did a little rehearsal. We’d all been asked to dress smartly in black trousers and white shirts. I’d had a massive shoe dilemma before I left (which I always manage to have before going anywhere) and had to borrow a pair of my mum’s shoes and hobble over a mile to school in them, so I was a bit flustered when I arrived.

The journey was… interesting… Our driver seemed to want to go everywhere in gear 1, take the least direct routes round the back-alleys of St Albans, and ramble relentlessly about practically anything, as well as apparently making very dodgy comments. I’d stuffed my headphones in my ears at this point to drown out Abba playing on the radio in the background.

When we finally arrived at the Foreign Office, we were stopped at the gate by two security guards. One of them used a mirror attached to a stick to look under our van, and the other talked on his radio. After a couple of minutes, we were told we couldn’t drive into the building, and would have to get out and leave our coats and bags inside the bus. Unfortunately this meant I couldn’t bring my camera or phone inside to take pictures.

We all hopped out of the bus, and walked into a big courtyard, then to some more security gates where our keyboard and equipment were scanned and we were all handed ‘visitor’ passes.

The interior of the building was stunning. All of the walls were painted intricately, and there was gold leaf everywhere. I’d never been anywhere this expensive looking. We walked up a marble staircase and down a corridor where we collected badges with each of our names printed on them. We then went into a room where the doors were 3x taller than normal doors (and also about 5x heavier!). There was a table with refreshments for us, and a huge table in the middle of the room. Everyone hovered round the edges, too scared to touch anything! Set out on the table were leaflets about the conference. I got the gist that it was to try and get headteachers to encourage girls to take careers in more male oriented industries. I wish I’d been able to listen to the conference as it sounded very interesting.

A lady came in with tote bags which she gave out to all of us. They each contained a tin of boiled sweets, a pen, a shirt with “breaking the mould, women in leadership” printed on it, a book about teenage finance, and a £15 book voucher!

After a quick drink, we huddled round the keyboard and practised quietly. We could hear the conference going on next door. After about 45 minutes, we heard clapping, which was our cue. The giant doors opened, and people started walking in.

I was feeling a bit nervous and my legs were shaking, but once we had been singing for a while it was ok. We sang songs like ‘Choucone’, ‘sing sing so’, ‘The Lass of Richmond Hill’ and a song about snails with very strange words- “I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail…” I’m an Alto which means I sing the low notes, and most of my parts were just singing “Ahhhhhhh”, or “Ooooooooo” which was good because I find it hard enough reading the music without the words.

Our headteacher found us pretty quickly, waved, and whipped out her camera and started taking pictures. She then disappeared, and reappeared with more headteachers. She’d obviously rounded them all up to come and listen to us. Our school careers teacher was there too.

After we’d run out of songs, we started heading towards the buffet table (as we were promised a free lunch) but we were sent back by our head who wanted as to sing the same songs again. Which we did. Then we tried again to get some food (as we were very worried they would run out!) but again we were asked to sing more songs.

We finally got to the buffet table, and it wasn’t long before we’d cleared everything there. Luckily, some people brought in more food, which again, we rapidly demolished. It was mostly finger-food with things like salmon, spring rolls, and things that I had never seen before but tasted very good. As I was on my way to get a 3rd helping (I’m not greedy, the plates were too small!!) I spied little bowls of chocolate mousse. I was about to get one when a lady came up to my group and said that we had to go back and sing again because a man with a webcam was going to film us all, and that we’d all be able to tell our friends we were on TV! (because the TV and the Internet are exactly the same thing apparently). If I find the video of us singing on the Internet, I will post it up here.

We were all very distressed that we couldn’t have our chocolate mousses before we sang, and we didn’t know if there would be any left when we’d finished. We crowded back round the piano and sang some more songs while the cameraman danced around us with his camera, and our headteacher pulled faces in the background.

Finally we’d finished, and were able to have our mousses. 5 minutes later, we were back in the minibus, all feeling suddenly tired. I was annoyed to discover my feet were in shreds after wearing shoes all day that were too small for me. Madonna did a no-show which was a shame, but I wasn’t too fussed about that.

I think the event is a move in the right direction at getting more girls to look at careers in male-oriented industries. I know from experience of being in a girls’ school how few people leave to study university courses such as engineering or IT. Apparently nobody in my school has gone on to do IT. I’m not sure if this is true, but it’s what the careers adviser said when I asked her for information on universities that offer good courses. My friend is going on to do engineering next year, and at the open day we went to, she was the only girl there. I don’t think the fact that there are predominantly men on the course deters girls from taking it, but rather that it is something that few really consider, perhaps because they don’t know anyone they can relate to who does it.

In year 10, we had to do work experience for a week, and were given a list of about 70 different placements that we could apply for. There were none in construction (other than gardening), one in design (architecture), none in IT, and about 10 different hairdresser placements and most of the rest were shop floor placements. Schools must try harder to give girls an insight into less stereotypical careers. And most importantly, women in these industries must do their bit and go to schools to inspire girls to look at other options that they maybe hadn’t considered.