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Miss Halls School: Getting girls on the right path

Inside the classrooms of prestigious US-based boarding school Miss Hall's you'll find scores of young girls who dream of becoming the world's next politicians, engineers and designers.

But coupled with those big aspirations are also big questions about what barriers they will have to overcome to follow their passions.

The answers to those questions were recently revealed in a groundbreaking documentary called ‘A Seat at the Table — Six Girls Ask ‘What Does It Take to Become a Leader'?'

The 45-minute film will be screened for the first time on Island in the Trophy Room at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club on Monday at 5.30pm.

Following that there will be a discussion and reception hosted by Patrick and Amanda Groves Outerbridge, an alumna of Miss Hall's School Class of 1975.

Janis Martinson, the chief advancement officer at Miss Hall's, said they chose to show the film here considering there are a few alumnus of the school currently living in Bermuda.

She hoped people seeing the film would leave with the “understanding of how much girls have to contribute to our world and feel hopeful and excited about the possibility for young women”.

For the past ten years a small group of girls within the school's Personal Authority and Leadership Source (PAaLS) have been investigating female leadership development.

The documentary grew out of their questions and curiosity, explained Ms Martinson.

“They worked with adults in the community to identify women leaders and the school funded for them to go out and visit the women and ask their burning questions on how to become a leader,” she said.

“It's still a mystery for many girls to have to identify the difference between themselves as teen girls and others who are mature adult women.

“It looks like a long distance when you are that age, so a lot about the project was helping to bridge that distance.

“The girls were able to see that the women leaders are not so different from themselves and there are steps they can take to get where they want or need to go.”

One of the big discoveries for the girls featured in the film was realising they don't have to do everything by themselves.

“There will be help along the way and they can surround themselves with life partners, friends and colleagues who will be supportive of their goals as an important part of helping to see change made around the world,” Ms Martinson said.

“I think another important take away from the film is that if you care passionately about something you can be a nice person, but know that sometimes you won't always be liked for doing the right thing.

“That's an important lesson for teens because I think there is a conflict very often between wanting to be liked and doing the right thing.

“And often for girls who are very intuitive to relationships and care about those relationships being intact, sometimes it's a mystery as to how to do both those things at the same time.”

The film points out that these dilemmas are not unique to them as individuals, but rather universal.

“There are also ways to navigate those challenges,” Ms Martinson said.

For instance while men in business or politics are often revered when they show confidence and have a take-charge attitude, women tend to get labelled a “b****”.

Ms Martinson said: “I think it has more to do with the fact that we are raised to see women in certain ways and a lot of times we are uncomfortable when they don't conform to traditional behavioural stereotypes.

“Research shows on measures of leadership that women score as well as or better than men in such positions, but we aren't always as comfortable seeing women demonstrate those roles.

“In one study, it was revealed that success for men was credited to likeability. However the more successful a woman becomes the more disliked they are.”

Women are faced with another conflict when trying to reach leadership positions.

For on one hand they are told as girls that anything is possible and they should be bold and outgoing, but when they display those qualities they are met with “subtle messages” that suggest they are doing something wrong.

Ms Martinson said the film was important in helping women understand which tools they need to develop to become great leaders.

It also serves to reassure them that what they experience out in the world is not necessarily a reflection of their work or behaviour.

Miss Hall's School, considered one of the first all-girls boarding schools in New England, was founded in 1898.

Today the school is a nationally recognised, boarding and day independent secondary school, best known for its college-preparatory curriculum and two acclaimed leadership programmes that teach girls how to confidently step into the real world.

Ms Martinson said students at the school were looking to venture into a wide range of careers.

Teaching staff aren't focused on promoting one career or way of living above any other, she said, but rather look to instil in them the belief that any avenue they choose can be open to them.

“In a girl's school, girls are definitely able to focus on what's meaningful for them and able to lead with intellect, ideas, energy and values.

“I think one of the best illustrations for me that one of our retired faculty members gave is that ‘Here, every drummer in the rock band is a girl'. I love that image of the fact that everyone is moving to her own beat.

“It's a very exciting thought because the opportunities for girls to lead are greater in an all girl's school and their perspective is validated in a particular ways at a girl's school.

“It gives them greater strength when they go out into the wide world with a depth of relationships and self awareness that they can use to contribute on a larger scale.”

‘A Seat at the Table — Six Girls Ask ‘What Does It Take to Become a Leader'?' will screen at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club on Monday at 5.30pm. People can register for the free event at www.misshalls.org/events.

The film was produced with help from PAaLS Research Director Elizabeth Debold, and documentary filmmaker Jackie Mow.

A film 'A Seat at the Table: Six girls ask What Does It Take to Become a Leader' will be screening next week at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club in Hamilton.

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Published November 13, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated November 13, 2013 at 8:27 am)

Miss Halls School: Getting girls on the right path

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