We recently spoke with Dr. Marisa Porges, head of school at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, about her recent book, “What Girls Need,” and how we can teach girls the skills they need to thrive in today’s workplace.
What inspired you to write “What Girls Need,” and why does it matter now?
I was inspired to write the book by the girls at the Baldwin School. I teach a leadership seminar for our seniors. I realized the conversations I was having with them were so future-focused. We always think we are preparing them for college or work, but two-thirds of the jobs our children will have aren’t even invented, so we are trying to prepare them for a world we can’t even define for them. There’s that uncertainty aspect, combined with the fact that they’re growing up in an era where gender barriers still exist.
Research shows there are skills that we have and have not taught our girls effectively, and this results in ways of being that our girls aren’t ready to embrace as adults, such as how to negotiate and persuade or how to compete and take risks. That way of thinking can be taught by building muscle memory starting at a young age. We started practicing and working through scenarios in the seminar, and I realized it was a conversation I wanted to share more broadly. It resulted in a passion project!
You say in the book that being persuasive is essential for success. How do we teach self-advocacy to girls?
This is one of the skills that is essential for us to think about for girls. If we are going to find an area of challenge for women and girls, it’s how we speak up, particularly in mixed-gender settings. It starts at a young age. Research has shown that on a playground where you have boys and girls together, boys are three times more likely to speak up and have their voice heard. You take those same girls and put them just with girls, and they will speak up more often; they feel socialized and more comfortable. This is the reality for adult women as well, no matter their industry.
We have to help today’s girls build the muscle memory that it takes to effectively have their voice heard. Make sure your daughter understands that her voice is valuable and help her find age-appropriate ways to speak up and argue her point. This could be at a restaurant, around the dining room table or even in the car ride home from school. In middle school, if there’s a problem in class, have your daughter speak up for what she needs, whether it’s with a teacher, coach or school counselor.