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Hero of Your Own Story

Be a ‘why not’ person, take hold of opportunities that come your way and learn from your failures as they will help you succeed. These were the messages from an impressive panel of female speakers at The Portsmouth Grammar School’s Women in Leadership event on Friday.

The event was part of a programme of celebrations designed to mark the 40th anniversary of that historic moment when the first girl joined the Sixth Form, and the 25th anniversary of the school becoming fully co-educational as girls joined the school in Year 7.  

Leela Bassi talks to pupils

Each of the speakers at the event had experienced vastly different journeys in their life and had faced different challenges, but equally, each of them had one remarkable thing in common; that they had all seized every opportunity and fought their way through adversity to reach their goals. “Life is no mistake,” said Leela Bassi whose life changed last year when she trekked across the Arctic. “If you have enough resilience and determination to reach your goal, then you will. You will come across many people in your life that will inspire you, love you and challenge you and help you to become the hero of your own story.”

Councillor Donna Jones spoke about her approach to addressing the gender imbalance in politics and her reluctance to support positive discrimination and all female shortlists, “Politics is very male dominated which is an issue for the country,” she said. “I want to be the best person for the job, not just the best female for the job, which is why I don’t want to be on all-female shortlists for Parliamentary positions. I want to create aspiration in Portsmouth to inspire all young minds to create a great future for the city.”

“There is still a long way to go in female leadership,” said Lynda Povey, Enterprise Advisor at the University of Portsmouth. “In the classroom our female students are incredibly able and forthright, but this does not seem to translate to the outside world where the men seem to thrive more by taking risks. We need to ask ourselves if we are bringing up our girls to be perfect when perhaps she would be encouraging them to take those risks too. ‘Why not?’ people change the world and we need more of these people to be women.”

Leela Bassi, Karen Nugent and Cllr Donna Jones speaking to pupils after the event

Three times World Champion, Olympian and Round the World Sailor Annie Lush talked about gender perception, exemplified by her last Volvo Ocean Race when she was part of the all-female Team SCA. Annie frequently experienced the “strong notion that as an all-female team, we would surely fall out with each other?” She went on to explain that “journalists would often ask the other [male] teams about race strategy, speed and tactics, but they would ask us about how we managed having periods on board!” Annie, like the other speakers, encouraged the audience to embrace failure, saying “there will always be failures along the way, particularly when you’re aiming for something big; learn from them and keep going.”

The messages from the evening were not dissimilar to those imparted earlier in the term, when one of the first Sixth Form girls, Rebecca Manson Jones, was guest of honour at Prizegiving. Rebecca has gone on to be a celebrated theatre director and leading feminist. This year she stood as a candidate for the Women’s Equality Party in the elections for the London Assembly and is currently making history by becoming her party’s first candidate to stand in a local council by-election. “I’ve been asked here tonight partly because 32-years ago I was here making a bit of noise and also because I’m still making a noise about Women’s Equality,” said Rebecca. “This speech should not be necessary. I don’t want a young woman sitting in the audience now, invited to give a similar speech in 32-years. I want her to be here to tell you about how she went to the moon – wherever that is for her.”

“Hearing the speakers tonight has been incredibly inspirational,” said James Priory, Headmaster at The Portsmouth Grammar School. “This evening was part of a celebration of how far the school has come in the forty years since girls started attending here and we hoped that putting together a panel of inspirational females would not only inspire our own girls at the school but challenge preconceptions of what females can achieve at work, in sport, politics and life. I hope that we did that tonight.”

The full programme for the evening and the biographies of the speakers can be found by clicking here.