This writing presents a collaboration to the UNESCO GEM report by the ” Iguales y Diferentes ” (Equal and Different) educational think tank. The text presents three ways in which female schools promote women’s leadership: first, by encouraging risk-taking; second, by enhancing analytical skills to facilitate decision-making; and third, by eliminating gender stereotypes. Therefore, girls
become fearless , smart and genuine leaders.

In this way, it contributes to SDG #4, education, by promoting the choice of STEM careers by women. Secondly, by promoting female leadership, it contributes to SDG #5􀊺 equality. We hope UNESCO keeps the research on such a fundamental topic as it is how single-sex schools favour female leadership.

I. Fearless: Girls’ schools encourage risk-taking.
Leaders need to take risks. However, studies indicate that girls are more critical of themselves and take fewer risks than boys. There are three factors that cause “glass ceilings” for women: (i) female perfectionism, (ii) difficulty delegating, and (iii) fear of failure ( Dr. Esther Giménez, International University of Catalonia ). This can be exacerbated during adolescence due to fear of judgement from their male peers. The absence of male presence can encourage risk-taking, reduce the fear of failure, and thus promote female leadership. This is especially applicable in
two areas: first, in speech classes, and second, in social projects.

Regina Shintani runs ” Caminhos e Colinas ” school, located in a marginal neighbourhood on the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil. It started activities in 2019 and underwent giant growth during the pandemic: from 94 students in 2020 to 700 in 2021. In 2023, they have 983 students. The school works with Personalized and single-sex education: one school with 2 units: the boys’ unit has 586 students and the girls’ unit has 397 students. The school director explains how speech classes are offered for girls to learn to speak better in public. In the university admission process, the girls
comment that the speech classes helped them present themselves ( Instagram ).

As the ICGS states: “Girls’ school students strengthen their voice and are encouraged to speak freely without interruption” ( Quick Facts – ICGS ). The press has also echoed this fact: “Academic studies and countless anecdotes make it clear that being interrupted, talked over, shut down, or penalized for speaking out is nearly a universal experience for women when they are outnumbered by men ( The Universal Phenomenon of Men Interrupting Women – The New York Times ”).Therefore, experts claim that “Girls’ school students are more likely than their female peers at coeducational schools to experience an environment that welcomes an open and safe exchange of ideas. Nearly 87% of girls’ school students feel their opinions are respected at their school compared to only 58% of girls at coeducational schools” ( Dr. Richard A. Holmgren, Allegheny College, Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools ).

In the same line, “Students who attended girls’ schools, compared to coeducated peers, are more likely to publicly communicate their opinion about a cause” ( Dr. Tiffani Riggers-Piehl, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Fostering Academic and Social Engagement: An Investigation into the Effects of All-Girls Education in the Transition to University ).

Finally, UCLA professor Linda Sax states that “Nearly half of all women graduating from single-sex schools rate their public speaking ability as high  compared to only 39% of women graduates from coeducational schools. ( Dr. Linda Sax, UCLA, Women Graduates of Single-Sex and Coeducational High Schools: Differences in their Characteristics and the Transition to College )
Therefore, encouraging teenage girls to express themselves with confidence in public settings promotes female leadership, thereby contributing to
the achievement of SDG 5 Gender Equality.

Guadalupe Caireta, a teacher at Colegio Nuestra Señora de Schoenstatt in Madrid and former student of the all-girls school “Les Alzines” in Gerona, explains how the ( “Service-Learning” project)  helped her develop leadership skills during her time in high school. The project aims to integrate education and social commitment into one process, in which students learn skills and knowledge while contributing to solving social and community problems. Students learn better when they are involved in practical and meaningful activities, and when they have the opportunity to apply what they learn in real-world contexts. According to experts “Programs at girls’ schools focus on the development of teamwork over other qualities of leadership, while the qualities of confidence, compassion, and resilience also ranked prominently” ( Dr. Nicole Archard, Student Leadership Development in Australian and New Zealand Secondary Girls’ Schools: A Staff Perspective ).

Finally, psychology professor Tiffany Riggers-Piehl states that “Girls’ school graduates impact their communities. When compared to co-educated peers, graduates of girls’ schools are more likely to: (i) become involved in environmental programs, (ii) deem it essential to participate in community social action programs, (iii) be frequently active in volunteer work” ( Dr. Tiffani Riggers-Piehl, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Fostering Academic and Social Engagement: An Investigation into the Effects of All-Girls Education in the Transition to University ).

II. Smarter. Girls’ schools ease decision-making.
The second key characteristic for exercising leadership is decision-making and, to do so, it is necessary to distinguish essential information from irrelevant information: academic skills and, especially in the 21st century, technological skills. Analytical skills allow women to ascend socially. Regina Shintani, director of the “Montes e Colinhas” school states that “75% of the female students who are in university are the first generation of their family to pursue higher education. They will probably have better job opportunities than their parents.” For her part, Ana Costa, director of the differentiated school in Barcelona Pineda , says that the school brings together students from 22 nationalities, that the facilities were built in an old garbage collector in a neighbourhood where there were thousands of children without schooling, and that it has also managed to ensure that many girls are the first in their families to attend university.

Below are some expert testimonies on the impact of girls’ schools on academic performance and the choice of STEM careers.
● Girls’ school graduates are 6 times more likely to consider majoring in math, science, and technology compared to girls who attended coeducational schools ( The National Coalition of Girls’ Schools Alumnae Survey 2005 Final Evaluation Report )
● “It appears that students in all-girls schools are more likely to take physical science subjects and are keener on careers in physics, computing or engineering than their counterparts in coeducational schools” ( Joanna Sikora, Australia 2014, Joanna Sikora, Australia 2014, Gender Gap in School Science: Are Single-Sex Schools Important ). The authors argue that this
difference is due to attitudes towards science and academic achievement and not the fact that they are girls’ schools, however, girls’ schools favor academic achievement and attitudes towards science.
● “Data revealed differences in attitude to mathematics with girls in the single-sex school having the most positive attitudes and girls in the coeducation setting having the least positive attitudes” ( Kester Lee and Judy Anderson, University of Sydney (2015), Gender Differences in Mathematics Attitudes in Coeducational and Single Sex Secondary Education ).

III. Genuine. In all-girls learning environments there are no stereotypes
about what girls like or where they excel.
Meryl Streep, the american actress winner of 3 Academy Awards and being nominated to 21, explained her experience in a “single-sex school” as follows:
I got to Vassar which 43 years ago was a single-sex institution (…) and I made some quick but lifelong and challenging friends. And with their help outside of any competition for boys my brain woke up. (…) I didn’t have to pretend, I could be goofy, vehement, aggressive, and slovenly and open and funny and tough and my friends let me (…) I became real instead of an imagined stuffed bunny.” ( Meryl Streep, Barnard Commencement Speaker 2010, Columbia University )

Adolescent girls can be more free, authentic, and spontaneous in all-girls schools. We are currently more aware of the power of external expectations: “Girls as young as six can be led to believe men are inherently smarter and more talented than women, making girls less motivated to pursue novel activities or ambitious careers” ( Dr. Sarah-Jane Leslie, Princeton University and Dr. Andrei Cimpian, New York University, Gender Stereotypes About Intellectual Ability Emerge Early and Influence Children’s Interests ).

In contrast, “All-girls educational environments negate this societal norm by providing opportunities for girls during a critical time in their growth and development. Not only do girls receive a wealth of avenues for self-exploration and development, they also see a wealth of peer role models. Girls need to ‘see it, to be it’ to make them more aware of the possibilities in their own lives and help set them on their own brilliant paths ( Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, Quick Facts – ICGS ). Ana Costa, principal of the all-girls Pineda School in Barcelona explained how two female students have participated in the EU Women in Finance program in Brussels, aimed at promoting gender diversity in the financial sector, which is
still predominantly male-dominated. The two students were chosen for their academic achievements and their interest in pursuing a career in finance. The principal described how during their stay in Brussels, they had the opportunity to attend workshops and meet with professionals in the financial industry. In short, this programs, as part of a broader initiative by the European Union, are a clear way to promote gender equality in all sectors of the economy ( Dos alumnas de Pineda participan en el programa EU Women in Finance en Bruselas )

Therefore, girls’ schools develop Leadership Skills. Girls’ schools empower students to become bold leaders: “At girls’ schools, girls demonstrate great confidence in female leadership and become increasingly interested in leadership positions themselves. Data suggests that girls at coeducational schools actually become less interested in leadership positions with age” ( Dr. Katherine Kinzler, Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago and Visiting Professor in the Department of Psychology at Cornell University ).

Finally, according to a survey presented to the students, “93% of girls’ school graduates say they were offered greater leadership opportunities than coeducated peers, and 80% have held leadership positions since graduating from high school” ( Goodman Research Group, The Girls’ School Experience: A Survey of Young Alumnae of Single-Sex Schools ).
In summary, girls’ schools promote women’s leadership in three ways: (1) by encouraging risk-taking, (2) by increasing the ability to make informed decisions, and (3) by eliminating stereotypes.
Therefore, in single-sex schools girls can become fearless, smart and genuine leaders.

Barcelona, April the 10 th , 2023
“Equal and Different” team (

The authors would like to express their gratitude to “Iguales y Diferentes” for funding this research project. We are also thankful to Regina Shintani, Principal of Colégio Caminhos e Colinas from São Paulo in Brazil, to Guadalupe Caireta, professor at Schoenstatt’s Our Lady’s School in Madrid, and to Ana Costa, Principal at Pineda School in Barcelona for the data and examples provided. We are also thankful to Dr. África Ariño and Dr. Nuria Chinchilla from IESE Business School, Dr. Enric Vidal and Dr. Esther Giménez from the International University of Catalonia, and Dr. Gloria Gratacós from the International Coalition of Girls Schools for her valuable comments and suggestions during the preparation of this manuscript.

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