We hear from Jill Duke, the founder of the Empowerment Academy for Girls. She tells us all about the Academy, why it's important for girls to learn leadership skills and what role golf has to play in it all.

At the Empowerment Academy for Girls, we believe empowered girls develop into empowered women. To support and encourage we coach confidence of voice, build self-esteem, develop resilience and encourage girls to expand their horizons through experiential learning in life skills.

What is the Empowerment Academy for Girls?

Empowerment Academy is the umbrella name for our mission-led education business to Get it right for Girls. We offer a pick & mix suite of education services, coaching programmes, life skills workshops and mentoring partnerships with industry-leading professionals.

At Empowerment Academy we believe in the empathic power of girls, and we take a girl-centred approach to everything we do. We run classes, workshops, hubs and camps for girls aged 3-18 years old. We also offer a bespoke service to business and education providers who align with our values.

Why is it important for girls to develop leadership skills from a young age?

Early adolescence is the time to develop leadership skills as puberty brings about physical changes and gender roles become more defined as girls begin the transition to adulthood. Prior to puberty, many girls feel able to speak up and use their voices.

When they reach puberty, however, they may be torn between pressures to conform to the cultural ideal of “selflessness” femininity and womanhood or to move toward maturity through separation and independence. The environmental ethos as is created by Empowerment Academy is crucial to supporting our girl’s development.

Why is golf the perfect sport to help to empower our future leaders?

Why not? As you already know, golf is a competitive sport that can be played after school or at weekends either solo or with family/friends. A healthy lifestyle and work/life balance has never been more important since the global pandemic.

Green spaces allow us to nature bathe and science backs the benefit of this for us all. Trying to hit a small ball requires great mental focus, determination and skill. This means our attention is grabbed and channelled – in our worlds of distraction this has got to be a good thing.

Girls want to contribute, be listened to and be included. A Transformational Leadership approach is an actionable approach we take, empowering girls to contribute to culture change at grassroots level towards an ethos or environment that directly affects them, so motivates them to be change makers.

Nothing is more satisfying for girls than to be developing real life skills in real scenarios and making a difference. Our ethos protection framework ensures we protect the space, promote risk and fail fast attitudes. The quicker the girls learn about themselves the more they are active agents in their futures.

Tell me more about the success you had at Carnoustie Golf Links?

Carnoustie boasts one of the UK’s largest golf development programmes and yet suffered the same dropout of girls as many sports do around early teenage years. They recognised they needed to be proactive in doing something different to retain the girls and develop the girls in order to keep them engaged. So they agreed to open their minds to new and innovative ways and work with Empowerment Academy.

The success of our leadership programme is evident here in this fantastic case study by Scottish Golf which evidences our Empowerment Academy Golf Leaders in action running a Girls' hub. Lockdown was a challenge for us all. Empowerment Academy pivoted online. We continued to invest in the leadership education of these girls supported both by CGL and the R&A. When the girls came out of lockdown, they were more connected, skilled, engaged and committed to collaborating and able to lead events.

By empowering and equipping our girls with skills for life and work, our EA Golf Ambassadors are well ahead of the game. They are designing their future now by being admirable teenage role models and creating positive impact on culture change – surpassing our initial joint aims.

They are a credit to themselves and to Empowerment Academy and demonstrate the power and success of this innovative and unique girls' empowerment programme as was evidenced by their developed resilience when we pivoted online during lockdown.

The girls within this programme were proactive agents for changing the narrative around diversity and inclusion in golf, they learned how to keep things social and fun, care for others and lead themselves.

They are exemplary candidates for their chosen career pathways and have future-proofed their potential through the sport of golf.

As a result of the massive success and impact of Empowerment Academy’s intervention, we are proud to share the added value at Carnoustie Golf Links, who now have the benefit of Empowerment Academy legacy of being in a position to have skilled employable EA Girls Golf Ambassadors as leaders within their golfing community. Providing them with real role models who have the personal skills and are accredited professional leaders who can plan, organise and run girls' golf events to a high standard.

Tell me more about the virtuous cycle of girls inspiring girls?

Representation matters! Role models shape the culture and build the community. It’s cyclical, if you see it, you believe, if you believe it, then you can be it. Women and girls of all ages are crucial here. Engaging all in a virtuous cycle e.g. Women as mentors, Teens as leaders, Girls supporting younger girls at coaching sessions, all are crucial to actively being the culture change by committed, effective contribution.

How do we keep more teenage girls in golf?

I believe this is THE crux, the sport of golf is in itself a fine game and indeed neutral, it is the human created environments in the sporting landscape e.g. culture, community etc that are the deal breakers.

When we acknowledge that, for example, the physical, psychological and social environment is fundamental to the success of any community of any description then we can ascertain where the gaps are and start the work to change.

Golf clubs need to create a safe space for girls and women to belong and get what they need. This includes facilities adequately resourced for e.g. period products in the bathrooms and creche or childcare for mums. This not only removes barriers but gives a clear message that the golf club values you, as members we want you here and you are considered and respected.

If we want to keep girls in golf then the golf club environment creators have to play the inclusive game, in order to develop and grow its community around girls’ development, thus enabling supporting and encouraging girls, teens and young women to grow and develop within the sport, and build it into their lives. If you make the club environment somewhere girls feel they belong, mark my words they will return.

Is it possible to roll out the Empowerment Academy programme at any golf club?

Everything is possible if there is the desire and commitment and a designated skilled space holder, who is supported by the whole club. If clubs are aligned in values with Empowerment Academy and open to start the discovery phase conversation, we would love to talk with them.

Don’t just take Jill’s word for it. Here are some thoughts from parents:

“The Empowerment Academy has been a great benefit to my children as they are much more proactive, vocal, and confident. They have achieved an equivalent to a Nat 5 leadership qualification, have become leaders in coaching golf to younger girls and have held their own camps during the summer.

“The older girls are much more confident in playing with their male peers and look forward to the challenges of competitive golf, which they were much less keen to do a few years ago. It is imperative to keep girls in the sport as we have so many in the junior sessions in Carnoustie compared to other places which have a vast majority of boys. It is good to break the male bias of golf.”

May 2022, Dad to Erin (15)

“Empowerment Academy has been a great opportunity for both of my girls to become involved in a brilliant cause. Encouraging more young girls both into golf and to stay in golf once involved.

“It has given both of them such valuable experience in planning, organising and leading through golf and fun sessions for younger girls. They have had to be mature, organised, reliable and responsible in order to achieve this. These are brilliant life lessons and skills which will serve them well all through life. These attributes and activities will be excellent for their personal statements for UCAS and on CVs in the future. I think it has also helped to keep them both in golf!”

May 2022, Mum to Hannah (15)

If you're interested in finding out more about the Empowerment Academy for Girls please drop Jill an email here.