Women working as doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs are being called upon to inspire and guide underprivileged girls in Brighton and Hove to follow their dreams.
The Girls’ Network sees professional women mentor girls from low-income families to break barriers and succeed in their chosen career.
The programme is the brainchild of former teachers Becca Dean and Charly Young, who discovered that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’.
They said low confidence and self-belief, as well as a lack of professional female role models, could be holding girls back.
Seven years ago, Becca was working in an all-girls school when she noticed there was a need for a mentoring scheme.
At her school, 88 per cent of girls were on free school meals, and most girls were from three or four generations of women that had never worked.
Becca, who lives in Brighton but grew up in Portsmouth, said: “I could see a barrier that these girls just could not see any working women, so if they could not see it how would they do it? To me that felt really frustrating.”
She said her ‘lightbulb moment’ was when she took a group of top-set Year 10 girls on a school trip to London.
“We got off the tube and the first stop was the Gherkin. I felt a tap on my shoulder and one of the girls said ‘why is that woman wearing a suit?’. I thought this is not okay.”
Becca decided to get a group of her friends together, women working in professional fields, and set up a speed networking event for the girls to meet them.
“The girls were really excited. They had the space to ask questions, talking to these women seeing the different jobs they could do,” Becca said.
Not only did meeting the women give the girls inspiration and aspirations, but Becca said the enthusiasm spread to the classroom.
“What was interesting was the attainment. It was a couple of grades in some cases.”
Of those 30 girls, all of them are now in education, employment or training.
It wasn’t long before word got around, and the programme was rolled out across other schools.
Now The Girls’ Network operates and in a dozen areas, and more than 1,000 girls go through the programme each year.
It’s been helping girls in Brighton and Hove for several years, but is now in need of mentors as demand rises.
It works with Hove Park School, Shoreham Academy and Patcham High, but is keen to get more schools on board.
Becca said: “What always really strikes me about Brighton... some of the girls we work with have never even seen the sea before. Some girls have never left their estates.
“We get the schools to identify who are most in need and would benefit from the programme. Those girls will usually be on free school meals, although we do not say they have to be. We let the schools use their discretion.”
To match girls up with mentors, The Girls Network looks at personality types, career interests and hobbies, before a networking event.
“We do a bit of pre-matching but allow for chemistry on the evening,” Becca said.
The Girls’ Network is looking to support 150 girls through the programme next year. That means it needs 150 mentors. Mentors must commit to a year’s programme, meeting up with their mentee once a month.
To find out more, and to sign up to be a mentor, visit: www.thegirlsnetwork.org.uk