Inspiring thoughts from inspiring women and what I got out of going to an all-girls school

Last Wednesday I was honoured to speak at Crofton House School’s 3rd Annual “Inspiring Women Event” alongside fellow alum, Tessa Cherniavsky (’75), Lana Sutherland (’86), and host Vicki Gabereau. I must say that the best conversations are ones that stick in your mind long after they are finished. This was one of those conversations.

It is always a cautious confession of mine when I say that yes, I did go to an all-girls school. A restricted and polite “oh!” is often the response, followed by my cover-up: “I know. Can you imagine? Me?!”

This is subsequently followed by my tales of escaping Crofton’s ivy walls trying to find a way, ANY way, to converse with boys or even just be around them. I mean, how else was I to deal with such abnormally high hormonal levels in my daily life? At even such a young age, I strove for balance. I auditioned for the school plays at the local boys school, forged many wonderful friendships with individuals of the foreign sex and as a Grade 12 prefect organized all “inter-school relations” events, meaning I could say to the girls, “Who wants to come to the boys school at lunch hour and sell dance tickets?” which would lead to us all slamming open our lockers, applying lip gloss in the mirrors, hiking up our skirts and driving the few blocks down to the boys school trying to look as cool as possible.

Ten years later, when asked upfront at this event “how my upbringing in an all-girls environment influenced my life” I paused to think and then the answer became clear.

I was constantly surrounded by strong, articulate, smart young women who took positions of leadership and responsibility. Seeing women as leaders who spoke on behalf of the student body and took responsibility was natural to me. Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In (yes, this is essential reading) talks about “sitting at the table”. A fantastic idea when you think about it. I always sat at the table. I was in on the discussions. I was helping run a school body alongside other female leaders and there was nothing “unfeminine” about it.

Near the end of the conversation Lana Sutherland admitted that as a woman in the business world, yes it is very much a “Man’s World”, telling stories about roadblocks she hit along the way. A woman in the audience piped up that it is “much better than it used to be” but I wanted to add, “We still have a far ways to go.”

A common question that is posed to many career women is “how do you balance work and family life?” When Gloria Steinhem was asked this, she responded “Until men are asked the same question, you can’t.”

Thanks to everyone who attended such a wonderful evening and to Crofton for letting me be a part of it.

© 2019-2020 ELENA JUATCO

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