Education & Family

Too many girls 'held back by inner critic'

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Too many women are letting their "inner critic" stop them from succeeding in life, says the head of the Girls' Day School Trust.

Helen Fraser said she "worried away" at why high-achieving, confident girls were not moving as smoothly through life as men.

Schools should encourage girls to be adventurous risk-takers, rather than "quiet, neat, good girls", she said.

The Girls' Day School Trust is a network of 26 independent schools.

Ms Fraser said girls should learn to challenge their inner critic with an inner cheerleader.

She told her organisation's annual conference, in London, of the 21st Century pressure on girls to be perfect - "perfectly beautiful, with a perfect row of A*s, perfectly good at sport and music and friendship".

Quoting an American psychologist, Carol Dweck, she said: "If life were one long grade school, women would be the undisputed leaders of the world."

She asked what it was that "militated against girls succeeding" in the world of work.

She was referring to the fact that girls outperform boys at all levels of education and yet go on to earn less than men and occupy fewer senior posts.

'Silenced voices'

She said girls needed to be encouraged not to allow their "inner critic to silence their voices".

"We need to persuade girls to challenge that inner critic that judges you, tells you you're not good enough, that your ideas aren't worth hearing.

"We know that too many girls and women, especially in a situation they find slightly intimidating (a university interview for example, or being the only woman sitting on a board) allow their inner critic to prevent them from speaking up or speaking out.

"This silencing of girls' voices leads to a sort of self-censorship.

"If you don't have that confidence in your own abilities, you can talk yourself out of expressing an opinion before you even open your mouth."

She added: "Too many women are in thrall to their inner critic.

"When I first started making mental links between what happens inside schools and what happens to young women in the workplace, the first thing that I talked about was the need for young women to speak out at work, to be heard, to claim their successes - not just to sit quietly doing brilliant working and hoping someone might notice."