A piece in yesterday’s Telegraph:
A private school chief has launched a “female fight club” to teach teenage girls the skills they will need to seize control of the boardroom.
Libby Nicholas, managing director at Dukes Education which runs 16 independent schools in London, Cambridge, Cardiff and Kent, believes there are certain characteristics which come more naturally to men but which women need to be taught.
During the “fight club”, girls will take it in turns to act in a way that is rowdy, loud and posturing as well as learn about how to assert themselves in a group situation.
“The very skills that enable girls to be top of the class in school – perfectionism, docility, acquiescence – do not serve us once we are in the workplace,” Ms Nicholas said.
“In the female fight club workshops, we’re going to both tell and show the girls how they can hold themselves with confidence in the classroom or boardroom, using stagecraft and tips and tricks.”
The club will initially be held at Heathside, a £20,000-a-year school in Hampstead, north London for girls aged 11-14, but Ms Nicholas intends to roll it out at all Dukes schools.
She explained that a professional actor will be hired to create a “boisterous boardroom scene”, where pupils are each assigned different roles.
The girls will learn various strategies to manage conflict and take control of challenging situations. For example, they will be taught how to pause when they are asked a question which can “give a sense of power” because it means people have to wait for their response.
The pupils will also learn how to use humour to deescalate a situation, and how to use the volume of their voice to assert control.
“If people are raising their voices, you do the opposite,” Ms Nicholas said. “You lower your voice people have to lean in and listen.”
Ms Nicholas, who began her career in banking before retraining as an English and philosophy teacher, said that differences between the way boys and girls learn emerge from a young age.
“The curriculum in this country is focussed on equity of access,” she said. “But boys and girls do need different things in some areas.
“Boys tend to dominate, they tend to raise their hands, they are more bold, they have a tendency to be restless, and a reputation for more misbehaviour.
“This is also something I have seen over the last ten years in the boardroom. There is a different energy in the room when men are dominant.
“Men advance their arguments through techniques that come more naturally to them – like interruption and talking loudly. Whereas girls tend to wait for that polite moment to speak.”
Ms Nicholas said that over the course of her career – which included spending five years as chief executive of Astrea Academy Trust where she turned around dozens of failing schools in deprived parts of the country – she has had to sack headteachers and dissolve entire governing bodies. In order to make “tough decisions”, you need to be able to handle conflict, she said.
The “female fight club” is the latest initiative aimed at boosting girls’ confidence. Previously, girls’ schools have run stand-up comedy classes for pupils so they have the courage to ask for a pay rise in the future.
Nina Gunson, headmistress at Sheffield High School for Girls which ran the course in 2019, said it was aimed at boosting pupils’ confidence so they are able to have “difficult conversations” later in life.
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