Executive girls train for sex war : Charles Oulton observes discreetly as top women of the future learn to combat the many wiles of men

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The Independent Online
IF THE battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, boardroom battles of the future may well have been decided yesterday at The Royal Naval School, in Haslemere, Surrey. But Wellington might have been rather bewildered by it all.

The idea, according to the organisers, was to get together 100 head and deputy head girls from independent schools in the South-east of England and teach them the secrets of success.

The Royal Naval School promised 'glamorous and sophisticated' girls who would spend the morning tackling team exercises designed to show them 'what their body language really is'. There was the clue. As in all battles, there must be an enemy. Wellington had his Napoleon: the head and deputy head girls yesterday had their sights lined up for them on men.

Fortunately for this man, the only male representative other than the deputy headmaster, the girls seemed unaware of the target throughout the proceedings. But that was the organisers' point. It is only later that the enemy becomes identified when the female executive gets frustrated in the male-dominated business world. Forewarned is forearmed.

Jill Clough, the headmistress and organiser of the conference, said: 'Women are quite free in giving their ideas to people without being at all protective about them. An agile man will take that idea away, and the woman's talent is wasted. What we want to do is make these girls more aware of the sheer range of their skills. By promoting their self-esteem, they are made that much tougher.' So off they went to enhance their powers of self-assessment 'so that you may know yourself to best advantage and promote your powers of leadership and authority effectively'. One of a variety of challenges had each team pass every team member through a tyre suspended several feet above the ground. Sally Hargreaves, head day girl at St Catherine's, Bramley, had a bright idea. Handed up by two taller girls, she untied the knot of the rope holding the tyre and lowered it to the ground. Initiative, she said later.

In another exercise, Sally and her friends had to walk blindfolded through some hoops, guided by the sound of a whistle. 'I've got such a headache,' moaned Vanessa Whicker from Prior's Field, near Godalming, Surrey. 'What's the moral of this?' shouted Nicola Cook from Tormead. 'Don't go to another head girls' conference,' came a reply. It was 11.50am and Sally said she wanted her lunch.

So up came the enemy again in the shape of the deputy head, Howard Edwards. 'Absolutely terrible,' he said. 'You may all be very good at leading, but part of leading is the ability to listen.'

Man trampling over woman? Alex Hawkins, deputy head girl at Moira House, Eastbourne, didn't think so. 'Someone's sex doesn't matter. I don't hold with all this feminism. What I have learnt today is the importance of listening.' She even listened to me. Dr Clough is not saying she should not listen to me. But in a few years, she thinks, Ms Hawkins should just be a bit more wary.

(Photograph omitted)