Inspirational alumnae from Benenden School – including HRH The Princess Royal and Her Royal Highness Princess Basma bint Talal of Jordan – energised aspirational students from across the globe yesterday as part of the School’s global conference entitled Inspiring Future Female Leaders.
HRH The Princess Royal shared her own perspective on leadership, discussing life in the public eye and some of the impressive female leaders she has encountered over the years.
Following her speech, HRH The Princess Royal also took part in a panel discussion with former MI5 Director-General Baroness Manningham-Buller LG DCB and Benenden Headmistress Samantha Price. They discussed breaking through gender stereotypes and bias, and even gave Benenden’s Head Girl Olivia, who chaired the discussion, some advice on successful leadership.
Held as part of the celebrations marking Benenden’s Centenary, yesterday’s ambitious global event was hosted in partnership with the International Coalition of Girls’ Schools and featured a range of high-profile speakers, all of whom are considered outstanding role models in their respective fields.
The event included a keynote speech from Her Royal Highness Princess Basma bint Talal of Jordan, who shared lessons learned from a life devoted to improving the lives of marginalised and vulnerable groups throughout Jordan.
In addition to the students from 60 UK schools present in the room, students from 60 schools around the world from countries including Australia, India and the United States also heard from co-creator and star of Made in Chelsea and tech entrepreneur Amber Atherton, Olympian Georgina Seccombe MBE, Hollywood producer and bestselling author Dame Didi Wong and international businesswoman Dr Amy Jadesimi – all former students of Benenden School.
Seccombe discussed what it takes to thrive as a successful sportswoman and leader, sharing tales from her time as the first ever female Head of the delegation for Team GB in the Beijing winter Olympics. She urged the students in attendance to “speak and act with authenticity and consistency, surround yourself with brilliant people and know that you are not defined by your gender”.
Atherton shared her thoughts on female leadership in the corporate world and said that UK business has a “cultural problem with ambition” that holds it back compared to its US rivals. The leading British tech entrepreneur working in Silicon Valley continued: “Part of the cultural fabric in the UK is to not to disturb the way things are. I want to encourage future entrepreneurs to try to break free of that tradition and feel like you can be openly ambitious.”
Benenden’s Headmistress Samantha Price also touched on ambition and what it means to be a female leader in her welcome comments, and shared her gratitude to all those involved in making such an impressive event a reality.
She said: “I very much hope that during my lifetime, as a society we reach the point where the gender of a female PM or CEO is not a news story, that women are so commonplace in Number 10 and boardrooms that their gender is irrelevant. I am confident that we will get there.
“Not everyone will run a country or a major company – and not everyone will want to. But leadership is not solely about being the most senior person in an organisation. Leadership is far more. Leadership is also about hard work – and earning respect. And this is, by no means, always easy.
“However, at Benenden we are committed to inspiring the next generation of future thinkers and leaders, a vision we have now been pursuing for 100 years. Yesterday’s conference was a testament to that and an unforgettable occasion, one we are honoured to have held in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal.
“This truly global occasion has facilitated the sharing of knowledge with students all over, in the hope that they can pass on what they have learnt with their peers, so that together we can inspire the next generation of future female leaders.”
One visitor, Hanna from the Weald of Kent, said: “I felt inspired throughout the entire day. It was a real privilege to meet such strong and successful leaders.
“I will be sure to follow their advice, including ‘making my weakness my strength’, as well as embracing and creating opportunities for myself in order to become a stronger female leader.
“Thank you to Benenden School for allowing us to be part of such an incredible day.”