RGS Guildford courtyard with students

Reflection: International Women’s Day

When considering our aspirations and goals, we often have specific individuals who have already achieved what we aspire to at the forefront of our minds, and often those considered by men, are men.

Whether Bill Gates, Ben Ainslie, Jamie Dimon, or Adrian Newey, studies show that male role models have the advantage in the male mind over female equivalents; yet it is important to pay significant attention to the women who are at the forefront of industries, as with a little research they may well become some of your major role models.

I hope to work in government, and reflecting on the experiences of women in this field in the 20th century is a grim exercise.  Government and diplomacy were characterised by smoke-filled rooms of well-connected men, even Thatcher’s rise saw little widespread progress, and ultimately what developed is possibly the least inclusive environment for women you could imagine.

Yet, in the midst of this, women persevered and today hold key roles.  Two have stood out to me for a while: Dame Barbara Woodward and Dame Karen Pierce.  Dame Pierce joined the Foreign Office in 1981, and served in Switzerland and Afghanistan before being appointed the first female British Ambassador to the US in 2020, inheriting the foremost position in international diplomacy in managing the UK-US special relationship.  Dame Woodward joined in 1994, serving in China as the first female British ambassador to the republic, after which she was appointed in 2020 as British representative to the UN, negotiating on behalf of the UK at the Security Council.  Both started in an era of difficulty, both have now reached the highest levels, not only acting as a source of inspiration for all yet also paving the way for a more inclusive environment in an area previously infamous for being an “old boys club”.

These are only a select sample of women in this field yet are arguably the two which have had the greatest impact in paving the way for inclusivity and acting as inspiration, and for me they are role models in my own career aspirations.

The theme of women who have persevered being at the forefront of their fields extends to all professions and sectors: Mary Barra being CEO of General Motors and Jane Fraser of Citigroup are just two examples, so in whatever industry you wish to go into, you’ll find inspirational women.

Women are now at the forefront of diplomacy, having paved a path for generations to come, and with this trend being replicated across the world from finance to the motor industry I urge you to consider future careers with respect to the women who now stand at the forefront.

Yet, we must not see this purely through rose-tinted spectacles and must ensure we recognise the struggles endured by these women and perseverance shown, as though here in an all boys school we may not be able to relate to the same experiences of these women, we can see their perseverance in tandem with their successes as inspiration for overcoming our own challenges and for our own future.

Joshua Inglesfield
Senior Prefect