TOWIE is not the only way say top Essex career women
THE leaders of today inspired the leaders of tomorrow at a conference aimed at helping teenage girls reach the top of their game.
Four women who are at the pinnacle of their chosen careers, three of whom are former pupils, dropped into Chelmsford County High School for Girls to give speeches and run seminars and workshops for 160 students, aged 14 and 15.
Girls from Boswells School, in Springfield, and St John Payne School joined those at the grammar school for the Developing the Leaders of Tomorrow Conference, which even heard from former Dragons' Den star Rachel Elnaugh.
Maria French, assistant head teacher for pastoral support, who arranged the event with Katharine Adams, head of Year 11, helped by a team of students, said: "The students here today are young women who are taking their education seriously, who are growing up to be the dynamic, confident, articulate leaders of tomorrow.
"These girls are the antithesis of those seen in The Only Way is Essex, girls who care about what is in their heads and their hearts, rather than simply about what they look like."
The day began with key note speeches from all four guests, who talked briefly about how they had reached the lofty positions they hold.
Former Dragon Rachel Elnaugh, who formed the company Red Letter Days, urged the students to be brave saying: "It's about your mind-set.
"You have to see life as an amazing adventure. You do not know what is going to happen next, but you need an underlying faith that it is going to work out."
Mitra Janes, diversity and inclusion manager at Ford, revealed that appearing confident was the key to leadership, admitting that, although she looked cool and composed during high level meetings, inside she felt far from in charge.
Students were able to choose to attend two seminars led by the guest speakers and, in the afternoon, take part in practical workshops, which included learning to eat healthily on a budget, belly dancing, learning about adventurous travel and public speaking.
Katherine Williams, 16, said: "The issues being discussed here today are not ones we talk about on a daily basis, but they are so important.
"It is a real inspiration to hear the guests talk so honestly about their battles to get where they are, the obstacles they still face, and how they get over them."
Alice England, 15, who goes to St John Payne School, said: "I've never been to anything like this before. I did not know what to expect.
"It is really exciting to hear these woman speak, and makes you realise how much you can achieve if you really want to."
Megan Lyon, 15, added: "For me, the fact that three of these woman went to this school is a real inspiration.
"It shows what Essex girls can achieve.
"Mitra works and lives in Brentwood, the home of Towie, yet she could not be more different from the image that the programme portrays.
"Some of my older friends do not want to put Essex on their CVs for fear of being labelled.
"I'm hoping that image will change soon."
Lydia Evans, 15, was one of the students who helped set up the conference, supervising refreshments and decorations and putting together packs for delegates, all on a very small budget.
She said: "I think the biggest challenge for us will not be barriers stopping us getting to the top of our professions, but being able to juggle motherhood with a career.
"Rachel Elnaugh has five sons and talks about finding the balance between work and home life.
"I think that is something that we could find hard to manage."