Female Leadership In An All-Girls Student Body

By Sophie Dorf-Kamienny (Marlborough)

I attend a high school where only girls comprise my class council. Girls also make up every editor on the school newspaper, and virtually every club leader and sports team captain. As you may have guessed, I am a student at a single-sex school.

Given the theme of this issue, I thought it fitting to discuss the significance of being a woman in power in an environment where nearly everyone in power is a woman. Although opinions on single-gender schools vary, many believe that in terms of leadership, all-girls schools allow female leaders to develop more effectively than in co-educational environments.

Ava Morgan, co-president of Marlborough School’s Gay-Straight Alliance, voiced her opinion on society’s avoidance of female empowerment. “I think that since there are a lack of women in leadership roles and a difference in the way the different sexes are raised, women might need more encouragement than men to take on leadership roles,” Morgan wrote in an email. Consequently, Morgan believes that all-girls schools often provide some of the support and encouragement that is missing: “the absence of male ‘competition’ in leadership roles may make it easier for women to envision themselves as leaders and allow them to develop leadership skills… but such development is far from impossible in co-ed environments.”

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A 2012 study published by MIT reinforced the notion of the “role-model effect.” The study indicated that in an area of India with a markedly higher percentage of female politicians, young women had more ambition in school and in career aspirations. It’s difficult to deny that this principle is at work in single-sex schools, where female leaders are present in all areas, including those that have traditionally been male-dominated.

For example, research over the years clearly indicates an uptake in women seeking leadership in STEM fields, and statistics in all-girls schools are particularly impressive. Even 14 years ago, “74% agreed that girls’ schools provide more encouragement in math, science, and technology” according to a survey of all-girls schools alumnae from the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools.

Nell Hawley co-leads Code Violet, a student organization focused on engagement in computer programming at Marlborough School. Hawley attests that there is a passion for computer science amongst young women in her club, despite the fact that the profession has been historically male-dominated.

“I have really enjoyed my experience as a club leader, not because I am at an all-girls school, but instead because this community has a strong interest in coding,” Hawley said in an email.

“For me, it’s more about the emphasis on girls’ empowerment... which is something you don’t get in a co-ed school,” Marlborough Model United Nations president Ellie Surman said. “It’s not like you are unprepared to be in the real world. Rather, you are prepared, with a sense of your own identity.”

Some claim that thriving in an all-girls’ school doesn’t prepare you for the real world, where it is impossible to avoid competition with men. However, I would argue that from the experiences of myself and my peers, having built a strong foundation in an all-girls’ school is what encourages many women to aspire to positions of power in the first place.