Girls should be equipped at school with the skills to ask for a pay rise in the workplace and accept nothing less than salary equality, according to one of the UK’s highest paid charity bosses.
Cheryl Giovannoni, who is paid more than £270,000 for her role as the chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), told a conference of headteachers that girls and young women must learn to be “financially independent and clear about their own worth”.
Giovannoni, who was recently listed as the 10th best-paid charity chief in the country, said closing the confidence gap for girls would ultimately close the gender pay gap. Quoting the US supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, she said women should become “the lawyer your mother always wanted you to marry”.
The GDST, which administers 23 private schools for girls and two state academies in England and Wales, was holding a summit in London entitled Preparing Young Women for a World of Radical Change. Speaking to journalists later, Giovannoni said: “If you look at the statistics, girls outperform boys at school, they outperform them at university and they start to fall behind very early on in their careers.
“Within the first 10 years, they are lagging significantly behind the pay of men for the same work. One of the things we work really hard on in our schools is giving girls the confidence to see their self worth … whether they are confident enough to ask for what they believe they’re worth is not always the case.”
Julie Keller, the head of Nottingham Girls High School, stressed the importance of financial education in schools, including discussions about pay equality and role play to help girls develop the confidence to express their opinions and make demands.
“It’s linked often to perfectionism in girls. They won’t want to ask for that pay rise or they won’t want to go for that promotion … The evidence will show, they have to be absolutely sure they’re going to get it before they’ll ask for it or go for it. It’s something we have to always tackle at school, especially in a girls’ school,” she said.
Nina Gunson, the head of Sheffield High School for Girls, said she had recently introduced a standup comedy course as part of the A-level enrichment programme, to help give girls the confidence to speak in public, improvise and take risks – skills which can be transferred to the workplace, including pay negotiations.
“Lots of our girls do things like debating, public speaking, but those things aren’t for everybody. They have, I would say, put off as many girls as they attract. And so we wanted to diversify the different sorts of settings where girls could develop those same skills.”
GDST members expressed concern at the conference about what they said was the negative rhetoric coming from Labour about private education. A motion is due to be debated at Labour’s party conference calling for independent schools in England to be stripped of their charitable status, for caps to be placed on university places for private pupils, and for their assets to be available for use by the state education sector.
Earlier this week, the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, expressed his support for the motion, which was put forward by the campaign group Labour Against Private Schools, under the Twitter handle @AbolishEton, which has received a surge of support since its launch two months ago.
Giovannoni said it would have a “devastating” impact on the work of the GDST and accused Labour of adopting a “black and white” approach towards what is a hugely diverse sector. “We have not only fee-paying schools, we also have two academies and if you have a look at the data, one in eight girls in our schools across the country is on a completely free place.”