I woke up this morning with the memories of last Friday inspiring me to tell this story.
Last week, I received an email from Amelia – a 15-year-old young leader looking for women in business interested in volunteering at schools. She invited me to St. Bernards’s High School in Westcliff-on-Sea to speak at a conference for Year 11 girls on leadership and entrepreneurship. When I arrived at the reception, I was greeted by two girls and I was immediately impressed by their enthusiasm and professional manner. As they guided me to the event they informed me that the conference was organised by students and teachers were there just to support and participate. I was amazed at the precision with which the event had been planned with, having to remind myself that these were 15-year-olds and not seasoned professionals!
The day started with an engaging and insightful keynote. Following her was Christina, a performer and singer who discussed resilience and the importance of trying. I was next and shared my story. As I looked out at the crowd I saw the same attentive expression that had been present as the others had spoken. It was heartwarming to see a room full of young women inspired to understand the challenges that would mould them into the great leaders of the future.
As I sat down, one of the students named PJ took the stage and spoke about how the birth of her brother diverted the attention of her parents. It was this event, she said, that gave her the resilience to see problems as opportunities for growth and change. What I can’t convey is the humour she injected into her talk with the room erupting into laughter several times, especially when discussing the merits of using family members as a source of cheap labour!
Next was a Romanian girl who emigrated to the U.K a few years earlier. She shared the story of the intimidation she suffered at the hands of those who viewed her ethnicity negatively. Far from succeeding, it taught her to take pride in her nationality. Standing firm in the face of such behaviour gave her strength and the determination to encourage others to do the same. The topic resonated strongly with my own experiences of assumptions being made upon my Polish heritage.
A dancer and young entrepreneur with her own dance company spoke after. She asked the audience about machine learning, deep data and artificial intelligence. I was pleased to see the level of understanding demonstrated by some students. Digital fluency provides the foundation upon which personal skills are developed, paving the way to leadership roles.
As the girls split into groups for various workshops that would form the afternoon’s activities, my time with them came to an end.
As I made my way home I reflected on what I have witnessed. I was amazed by the organisation, maturity and confidence displayed by these young women. They may only be 15 years old but with their raw talent being nurtured through initiatives such as this, we will have the next generation of leaders ready and waiting.
Thank you to all the Girls and staff of St Bernard’s for to opportunity to be involved in such a wonderful conference. More initiatives like those, please!