Headmistress Dr Kirk spoke in assembly this morning about International Women’s Day and the importance of speaking out when confronted by sexism or discrimination. Three girls from the Head Girl’s Team (Jess, Hannah and Emily) presented the information and statistics shown on the slides.

Dr Kirk stated: "Today is International Women’s Day. The Theme is Women in the Changing World of Work: 50:50 by 2030. It’s about being bold for change. I think it is wholly appropriate that we as a girls’ school should pay tribute to this and use this as an opportunity to look at women’s advancement around the globe.

Some people may think women’s equality has been attained, especially in our more privileged western countries but gender inequality is a major issue affecting women in this country and around the world.

I was struck that the participants in our recent Inspiring Women’s Conference were all united by the sad fact that they had all experienced sexism in the world of work, whether by being blatantly paid less than their male counterparts, being subject to catcalls at work, or being mistaken for the secretary when they were actually the top surgeon!

I want to share this letter by a male engineering student at a university in the States with you to show that it is not just women who can be bold for change and who can speak out against sexism. When Jared Mauldin saw how his female peers were being treated on their engineering course he realised men and women in Science Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) are definitely not treated equally. It is equally important for men to voice their opinions on this issue too. In his letter, written in October 2015 ‘to the women in my engineering classes’ he states:

I did not grow up in a world that discouraged me from focusing on hard science. Nor did I live in a society that told me not to get dirty, or said I was bossy for exhibiting leadership skills. In grade school I never had to fear being rejected by my peers because of my interests. I was not bombarded by images and slogans telling me that my true worth was in how I look, and that I should abstain from certain activities because I might be thought too masculine.

I was not overlooked by teachers who assumed that the reason I did not understand a tough math or science concept was, after all, because of my gender.  I have had no difficulty whatsoever with a boys club mentality, and I will not face added scrutiny or remarks of my being the ‘diversity hire’.

When I experience success the assumption of others will be that I earned it. So, you and I cannot be equal. You have already conquered far more to be in this field than I will ever face.”

I think it is a really revealing letter. Girls and women do confront obstacles, especially in those areas which are stereotypically considered more male, such as in STEM. As a girls’ school, one of the advantages here is that all of the girls are free to study any subject which they choose, unencumbered by gender stereotyping. Every year, a good number of girls leave St Mary's Calne to go on to study STEM subjects at leading universities; subjects which girls go on to read include Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Chemical Engineering, Chemical Engineering with Industrial Experience, Chemistry, Engineering, Environmental Science, Human Biosciences, Mathematics and Mathematics and Statistics.

Last year, two of St Mary’s Calne girls (twin sisters) also won the international Kroto Science Prize (University of Sheffield) with their scientific video, Test Tube Babes. Next week, we are looking forward to celebrating Science Week with a range of activities which will fully engage the girls, including a Science Poetry Competition, based on Science Week’s theme of ‘Change’.

Sadly, women still have to face inequality/sexism in the workplace and we have a long way to go, as some of these statistics show, before we are on a level footing with men:

• 55% of women in the European Union have experienced sexual harassment at least once since the age of 15. Of these, 32% experienced it in a a place of work.
• Women in Leadership: only 23% women have seats in Parliament; CEOs, Fortune 550 Companies – women make up only 4%. * 

So, today especially, International Women’s Day, it is important that everybody, men and women alike, join forces to break down these barriers and speak out when confronted by sexism and discrimination so that we can strive towards gender equality around the world and reach 50:50 by 2030."

Dr Felicia Kirk, Headmistress, St Mary's Calne 

*Source of statistics (and statistics on slides): The United Nations website - International Women's Day. For further information please click here