Sarah Mullin portrait

Written by Sarah Mullin

Deputy Headteacher and EdD student

 A blog by Sarah Mullin and Dr Deborah Outhwaite

It is widely acknowledged that gender representation, in addition to other forms of diversity, is essential for society to thrive, yet women are still underrepresented globally in politics, health, business, and other organisations. Despite research which highlights the positive influences women bring to leadership positions, many organisations report difficulties in attracting and retaining women leaders. Schools can therefore play an important role in helping girls to realise their potential so that they can be the change that they want to see in society.

How can schools better prepare girls for future leadership positions?

  • Engage men as allies

It is important for us to engage boys as allies by raising awareness of gender privileges so that they feel confident to challenge inequality when they see it. We need boys to appreciate the positive qualities that women leaders bring to the table and to work with girls to so that gender equality can be achieved. 


  • Encourage STEM careers

Just 24% of UK STEM roles are occupied by women and these are wide-ranging, technical professions which are critical to the economy.  By harnessing positive role models from organisations such as STEM Ambassadors, we might ignite a passion for future careers in STEM, particularly in young women from households where there is no prior experience in these areas.  


  • Financial education

Women live longer but financially poorer lives than their male counterparts, and part of this is around the ownership of finances, occupying lower paid, part-time roles, and the lack of professional careers with occupational pensions.  Although no one young wants to think about retirement, financial education is key.  


  • Tackle Imposter Syndrome

For years, girls have outperformed boys academically, yet girls may lack the confidence to believe in themselves and their future potential. We can help girls to be aware that having feelings of self-doubt is normal; imposter syndrome can affect anyone at any time. We can help girls to recognise the positive skills and attributes they possess so that they feel empowered to embrace and celebrate their positive qualities.

  • Encourage Self-Care and Wellbeing

We teach our children and young people to take care of their physical and mental health; it is equally important to encourage girls to invest in their wellbeing. Whether schools are promoting positive body image or banishing berating self-talk, girls need to grow up appreciating that self-care is far from selfish: it is a necessity. 

  • Inspirational Role Models

We can celebrate the multifarious roles that women leaders possess: women can be mothers and partners in addition to being leaders. Let us teach our girls about the possibilities of flexible working patterns, showing them how to be assertive and confident so that they are able to make the future life choices which are right for them. Let us help our girls learn about inspirational women from diverse backgrounds in a range of careers so that they have positive role models to look up to.

For the first time in history, two women shared the 2020 Nobel prize for Chemistry proving that the realisation of a more equitable society is achievable. So, let’s encourage our girls to aim high, dream big and work hard to become the change we want to see in society. After all, you cannot be what you cannot see.


To Cite this article, please use:

Mullin, S. & Outhwaite, D. 2020 ‘You Can’t Be what You Can’t See: Growing Future Leaders in Education’, Engage Magazine, issue 21, p9.

Sarah Mullin is a Deputy Headteacher and Doctor of Education student. She is the curator of the bestselling book What They Didn’t Teach Me on My PGCE and the founder of #EduTeacherTips, a YouTube channel for teachers, by teachers. 


Dr Deborah Outhwaite is the Director of the Derby Teaching Schools Alliance (DTSA), BELMAS Council Vice-Chair, co-convening a Research Interest Group (RIG) on Leadership Preparation and Development (LPD and a Network Leader for @WomenEd in the East Midlands.