Tiffany Dufu accomplished a chunk of her day’s mission well before she was introduced as our speaker at the second annual St. Mary’s School Board of Visitors meeting on Oct. 14.
“I’ve already gotten what I came for because I’ve spent time with your girls,” Dufu said, describing students in her early-morning chat as “remarkable,” “articulate,” “poised” and, yes, “accomplished.”
Next, Dufu, nationally known for her work to advance women and girls, would tell us how to keep those qualities going and growing well beyond high school, following them into college – and then into their careers with opportunities to lead.
The day’s theme: “The Success Equation: Acquiring the Assets to Lead.”
Or, in the form of a question: “Why, when women lead nationally in obtaining college degrees and winning academic honors, are young women not achieving similar success when it comes to careers?”
It starts now, with us, said Dufu, the chief leadership officer to Levo, a fast-growing network for millennial women professionals.
To foster future leaders, Dufu urged, tap into the minds of girls and young women to develop in them the “Success Equation.” Show, tell and empower them to build the crucial asset of an “I can and will” mindset. Encourage ambition to achieve goals or dreams and confidently accept recognition for achievements. Also, boost access to an “ecosystem of support,” she said.
“If you want something you’ve never had before, you’ll have to do something you’ve never done before to achieve it,” added Dufu, a launch team member to Lean In and former president of the White House Project.
“In order for us to assure our girls are successful, we have to be sure to give them plenty of practice taking risks,” she said.
Certainly, Dufu said, more risks mean more chances to fail. But, she added, “that’s how we develop grit.”
Dufu encourages girls and women to possess the self-viability of a presumed winner, to be politically savvy and to be effective storytellers of their own stories.
For success, the environment must be one that invites girls and women into leadership roles with intentional opportunities for everything from mentors to leadership positions.
“All of the girls are all of our daughters,” Dufu reasoned. “Our leadership journey is a team sport.”
The school’s Board of Visitors convenes businesspeople and other professionals to create an annual forum for an exchange of ideas on the future of education – specifically, the education of girls and young women. It opens dialogue around issues affecting the academic and professional success of girls and women with fresh insight from outside the school’s walls, and zeroes in on national and global trends.
The day also included time for visitors to hear from students and faculty about how St. Mary’s works to address Dufu’s ideas and formulas for success.
Celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, St. Mary’s is the city’s oldest school still operating under its original mission to educate girls. The independent, Episcopal school is a college-preparatory boarding and day school for grades 9-12.
Joining the 91 Board of Visitors members at the annual meeting were folks on the St. Mary’s Board of Trustees and Alumnae Council, and faculty and staff.
I was honored – no, absolutely thrilled – to be in the room and at the table.
We were in good company, including Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, St. Augustine’s University President Everett B. Ward and Smedes York, the great-great grandson of the Rev. Aldert Smedes, an Episcopal priest who founded St. Mary’s in 1842.
“You are the world for which we are preparing our students,” assured Monica Gillespie, St. Mary’s head of school.
Lane Nash is a St. Mary’s alum. So are her daughters. She’s also a past trustee and this year completed her two-year Board of Visitors term.
“We have a responsibility to initiate these kinds of conversations about the advancement of girls and women,” she said. “That’s who we are. It’s what we do.”