By Catherine Stoker

With International Women’s Day on Sunday 8th March, I’ve been reflecting what that means to me as an entrepreneur, business owner and wife, as well as an adviser to parents on schools and education planning.

My own education at an all-girls’ boarding school was fabulous fun. Though I’m not certain it was the most academic education, living and working so far from home certainly gave me the confidence and independence to believe that I could have both a successful career and a family life. It has never occurred to me that I couldn’t do things. Only that all I had to do was to set a goal and work as hard as possible to achieve it, without giving up when things got tough. Resilience, perseverance and personal responsibility were all crucial life skills I learned from my boarding education. These have certainly been of great use in setting up my own business, in tandem with working towards being a ‘good’ wife.

When it comes to the future, girls are often faced with juggling career plans, in conjunction with their desire to become a wife and/or mother. Empathy, putting the needs of others first, perhaps coupled with a lack of self-belief or peer pressure to follow a certain path, can lead to a lack of ambition or being steered towards the tried and tested route, for example into teaching or nursing. Career planning should not be about which career gives access to the best childcare or being free in the school holidays. It should be about finding your own personal passion, deciding on a goal and then finding ways to make that work within the context of family life.

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to be a good wife and mother of the future. But, how do we inspire girls to also aim high when it comes to career goals. In other words, encourage them to believe that they can have it all?

Parents often take a different approach for school planning with daughters, as opposed to sons. Many times, I have heard all girls’ schools talk of shaking off the label of girls wanting to do horse riding and cookery courses, instead of pushing sciences, engineering or technology. This is something girls’ schools tend to do very well. It’s perhaps the co-ed environment where gender stereotypes amongst peers might be more commonly found. For example, do boys feel it is ‘cool’ to sing in the choir or attend cookery club, as opposed to captaining the first rugby XV?
Quality education is about diversity of opportunity, in tandem with inspirational teachers. I truly believe that a good school could operate without 5 star facilities, if it has good leadership and the best teachers. Not only is a good teacher knowledgeable about their subject. They can inspire a passion for it via the way they teach. We all remember our best teachers at school. Chances are these are the subject or career areas we ended up choosing to study at university. Hence girls must be exposed to inspirational teaching in the sciences, maths, technology, as well as other subjects more traditionally associated with girls. Only in this way will they develop a passion for sciences, engineering, maths or technology.

Women need to be great multi-taskers. In addition to the above, there must be an extensive range of co-curricular opportunities on offer, allowing girls access to opportunity to find their true passions. Whether that be hockey, drama, music, debating, Model United Nations, chess, maths competitions, design and technology, car maintenance, riding, cookery or sailing. The confidence to decide on a career as a doctor, lawyer or astrophysics will come from this all-round approach to education. None of these should be exclusive opportunities for girls or boys.
I can assure you a husband who can cook is something I feel grateful for every day!