The Inspirational Woman Project: Elizabeth English

Teacher pointing to raised hands in classroom
Teacher pointing to raised hands in classroom

The Inspirational Woman Project believes that every woman is inspirational. It's our mission to tell their stories.

Elizabeth English has served as an educational leader in both independent and public schools across the country for over 25 years, with a focus on building ethical school culture and excellence in teaching and learning through research. As a passionate and devoted advocate for girls' schools everywhere, English writes and speaks about education, parenting and the issues facing girls today.

Since 2008, English has served as Head of The Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles. Originally from the East Coast, she began to notice more and more throughout her career that the heads of schools were all male, while the main staff underneath were all female. It became clear to her that she had an opportunity to help change things for girls and women, and that the best way to do that was to lead a girls' school where empowerment for girls was the primary mission.

The Archer School for Girls was founded by three bold and visionary women 20 years ago to be an innovative school, a place where every programmatic decision is based on the current research about how girls learn, develop, and thrive. As a contemporary girls' school, Archer's mission is to educate the future female leaders of this country in an environment that is at once ambitious and joyful.


When do you feel most powerful?
{English} I feel most powerful when I'm creating something. Especially when I'm writing, speaking or leading. Language has always been the medium I've used to inspire people and to affect change. Skillful use of language is essential to my work as a leader of a girls' school. I feel most powerful when I'm inspiring others to take action through language.

What's your relationship with femininity?
{English} It's interesting because I just turned 50, and my answer is different than if you had asked me 10 years ago. I have always really enjoyed being a woman. I enjoy conventionally feminine things such as fashion, makeup, etc. However, there is also an aspect of who I am that is masculine and strong as a leader. I think one of the great things about being a human being, male or female, is that you can access both sides of yourself. Everybody has masculine and feminine energies and qualities. Anyone can access either when they need to.

Why are you inspirational?
{English} I am fearless. I speak forthrightly about the realities facing girls and women in the world. In an age where feminism is treated as a dirty word, it's inspirational for me to stand up and refer to The Archer School for Girls as a feminist institution. I do it unapologetically and talk about our mission as directly related to the fact that there continues to be embarrassingly few women in leadership, despite the fact that women have surpassed men in educational attainment. For a lot of people it is a relief to hear someone address this issue directly and to be running a school that exists to deal with it.

Who inspires you?
{English} I look to stories of other women for inspiration. I am fascinated by Hillary Clinton. I am fascinated by what she has endured and the fact that she is still enduring. This election is very interesting to me, and I have a lot of sympathy for Hillary as a woman leader. The reality for women is that when you put yourself out there, you're going to become a target in a way that is not typically the case for men. For example, look at the things Donald Trump has said, statements that many would qualify as risky things to say, and yet it hasn't damaged his popularity. If Hillary said anything in the realm of some of the outrageous things the male candidates have said, she would be dead in the water. I take inspiration from women like her who exhibit what seems like an endless reserve of resilience and strength.

How do you deal with your inner naysayer?
{English} I've always used sports and fitness as a way to make myself feel really powerful. If I'm feeling insecure or doubtful I will get on my spin bike in the privacy of my home with hip-hop music and go at it. When I get off the bike I feel strong. Completely strong. There's something about it that helps me get in touch with what is physically and mentally tough about myself.

What is your favorite thing about being a woman?
{English} Women are badasses! We've got what it takes to do it all. We can switch so readily from being a mom to a friend to a CEO. And all along the way, we are making hard decisions that will invariably make some people unhappy. I can play all those roles and I know when to play them. I wonder if that is something particular to being a woman? I think it is. We have incredible emotional, physical and spiritual endurance.

I love the quote about Ginger Rogers, "Sure [Fred] was great, but don't forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards...and in high heels!" That's the story of being a woman. Not always but often it's harder because more is expected of us. But I kind of like that! WE can do it! Women are just unbelievably strong. Women are powerful. That's what I like most about being a woman.

What gets you out of bed every morning?
{English} I love my work. I love my job. I love the people I work with. I love the mission of my work. Seeing the girls come up the steps of the school every morning definitely gets me out of bed. It's the promise of a new day. Everyday we have a new chance to get it right. That is amazing, and I'm grateful.

Follow The Inspirational Woman Project on Twitter @InspWomanProjct and Instagram @InspWomanProjct.