A staggering finding of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report states that none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, nor will many of our children. Projecting current trends into the future, the 2020 report estimates the gender gap to close in 99.5 years.
While those statistics might seem discouraging for some, Toorak College’s deputy head Kate Brown is motivated by the challenge.“Parity is not something that’s going to come soon... but we need to make progress towards that,”Brown says.
“We, as teachers, very much see ourselves as inspiring the women who are the next generation of leaders so that they can step up and inspire their daughters.’’ Guided by the maxim, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’, the Mount Eliza school sees significant value in providing students with career inspiration and role modelling by connecting with alumni and industry partners.
One such partner is the Academy for Enterprising Girls, a federally-funded initiative dedicated to solving real-world problems, and developing enterprising skills and a growth mindset. Annie O’Rourke founded the organisation in response to the gender pay gap and issues surrounding female representation in start-ups, business and STEM-based jobs.
“What the research shows is that from as young as 10 or 11, girls get an idea of whether they’re good at something or not,” O’Rourke explains. “We needed to develop and run a program for young girls to encourage them that they actually could run a business, and that STEM wasn’t something to be scared of.”
Through the academy, girls aged 10 to 18 can learn about entrepreneurship,design thinking, and starting their own business with the aim to create economic freedom for women.
Toorak College has long recognised the need to equip students with future focused skills such as collaboration, communication, problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity. The school saw an opportunity to work with the academy to develop and embed an enterprising program within its curriculum, emphasising negotiation and presentation skills, financial tools, and teaching girls how to market themselves and their product.
The school’s year 7 subject ‘Agile Learning’ teaches students through a series of workshop-style lessons how to work collaboratively and address themes such as the ‘power of UX’, ‘social entrepreneurship’ and ‘opportunity and action’, where they consider the United Nations’ sustainability goals.
As one of the first schools to roll out an enterprising-focused program on a broader scale, Toorak College is excited to see girls across Australia have the opportunity to participate in the program as well.
“It’s a really great way of modernising the education system by providing such an innovative program that’s so highly engaging,” O’Rourke says.
Brown notes that girls who have gone through the program show particular interest in developing enterprises that contribute to the social good. Issues such as cyberbullying, climate change, drought, recycling, food waste, homelessness, fast fashion, sustainability, inclusivity and social connectedness are all of concern. It’s no surprise then that Mission Australia’s 2020 Youth Survey cited equity and discrimination, gender inequality, racial injustice and mental health as some of the top concerns among teens today.
“The program comes back to our ‘challenge the world mentality’,” Brown says.
She says students who have completed the program feel “enlightened”, with one student reporting that she learnt more about the world, the importance of humanity and how to be a responsible citizen than she ever thought possible. Year 8 student Joelie participated in the program last year. She valued the opportunity to develop her confidence and presentation skills, and collaborate with others to propel their ideas forward.
“Working to solve real-world problems and create something that could help many people around the world was really empowering,” Joelie says. “We’ve seen a lot of progress being made in attracting women to STEM. That’s been a big push by society over the last 10 years,” Brown says. “We are seeing the next wave or band of growth coming in the commerce and politics space. They [girls] see politics as the way that the world operates, the way that the world does business, and their opportunity to create change from within.
“Our girls want to make a difference with humans around the world, not just in their local area, and to close the gender gap. Developing their enterprising skills and broadening their horizons is already helping them be the change they want to see.”
DOWNLOAD OUR SENIOR SCHOOL EXPERIENCE BROCHURE
At Toorak College we understand that the world does not cater to a single gender. We do not seek to replicate the world, we seek to challenge it, by offering our students an environment that enables them to focus on achieving their personal best, whilst also discovering their passions.