International Women’s Day
To mark International Women’s Day, the second annual Girls’ Day School Trust Creative Writing Prize has ‘role models’ as its theme. Helen Fraser, chief executive of GDST, reflects on why they are so important…
Role models come in all shapes and sizes. Each one will have a different philosophy and different motivations. Sometimes a role model's appeal is universal. With others, a passing remark or achievement can pique a lifetime’s interest.
Now in its 101st year, International Women’s Day is the perfect opportunity to reflect on some of our more notable and also our less well known female role models: those women who inspire us with their wisdom and resilience; their courage in the face of adversity or maybe just an attitude to life that chimes with our own.
This year, the annual GDST Creative Writing Prize had role models as its theme. The three winning entries didn’t find their heroes and heroines on the pages of glossy magazines or YouTube. Instead, they used their imaginations to conjure up worlds where role models demonstrate real, human characteristics – joy and enthusiasm, but also sometimes disillusionment and frailty. They certainly aren’t perfect.
Girls from the GDST's 24 schools and two academies were asked to submit short stories or creative writing pieces of up to 1,000 words on their role models. The winners write about dare devil stunt girls, amusingly exploring two sides of friendship: mysterious neighbours, using vivid visual language; and undercover agony aunts, exploring fantasy alter egos and parallel worlds.
Entries were judged by distinguished adult and children’s author, Anne Fine, an alumna of Northampton High School, GDST. Commenting on the quality of the entries, she said:
“The standard was excellent. A good number of the stories have that intriguing quality that makes us want to read on and know more, and that’s the most essential ingredient for any piece of writing.
“Storytelling is a splendid and enriching way for girls and young women to find their own voice and reflect on their place in the world.”
When I think about my own role models, I think of Marjorie Scardino, who was CEO of Pearson when I was at Penguin Books and was the first woman to be CEO of a FTSE 100 company.
Today, it pains me to say, she is still one of only very few to lay claim to this position – you can count the number of women who have followed her as FTSE CEOs since 1997 on the fingers of both hands.
I found it made an enormous difference to me, as a woman in the company to know that it was being led by another woman and one of great capability and humanity. At GDST we hope that our girls will easily find similar role models when they enter the world of work, and that our alumnae are already blazing a trail for the women who will come after them.
There are no right and wrong answers when it comes to role models. One woman’s heroine could be another’s nemesis. What I’ll be reflecting on this International Women’s Day is the wealth of female talent that surrounds me every day. Among friends, family and work colleagues, I really don’t have to travel far to find inspiration. Here’s to the next 100 years of incredible women.
Click here to see what careers advice I’d offer my younger self #DearMe
You can read the winning stories in full here:
‘My Role Model’ by Isabella Harrod – Bromley High School
‘We Match’ by Kate Whittington – Oxford High School
‘Dear Jenny, Or the very unwelcome OBE’ by Nia Moseley-Roberts – Howell’s School, Llandaff.