Rising to the Challenge – A New Generation of Women in Leadership
13 May 2022
Recent decades have seen both a dramatic and necessary shift in the position of women in the workplace, particularly with respect to participation rates, qualifications and career opportunities. While we know women have always had the desire and capacity for leadership, the restrictions placed on them – such as limited access to superannuation, different rates of pay and social and cultural attitudes and expectations– continue to reveal an ongoing gender gap and restrictions on advancement.
Indeed, current research suggests that while Australia is making progress in the area of gender equality, female leadership representation continues to be a cause for concern. In addition to this, the impact of Covid-19 and its regressive effects on gender equality loom large. For example, McKinsey’s research argues women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic than their male counterparts due to the significantly increased time dedicated to unpaid care. Early models indicate global GDP to be $1 trillion lower in 2030 than it would be if women’s employment wasn’t impacted by the pandemic. What this shows is that it’s systemic, it’s large, and there is a lot of work to be done.
Despite this, the rise of a new generation in the education sector is beginning to transform this perspective. Our sector is playing a key role in leading the way to a new mind-set concerning issues of gender equity and women in leadership. It is certainly pleasing that five out of nine executive-level positions at Westbourne Grammar are held by female leaders. Many schools are role modelling a commitment to diversity, supporting talent through life transitions, challenging traditional views of hiring, encouraging networking, and reviewing recruitment processes, while investing in building the capacity of current and aspiring female leaders. Further, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency suggests that continuing to develop rising women is critical to this ongoing success, as is the provision of flexible working arrangements and, where appropriate, challenging the status quo. In addition to the imperative of equity, from a business point of view there is a strong argument for supporting women in leadership.
Women in leadership is everyone’s business. It’s important we continue to talk to our young people in a way that reduces barriers, eliminates stigmas, promotes and supports aspiration and ultimately removes the notion of the glass ceiling. Last year, with my Year 12 students I discussed the reality of this as it exists in businesses all around the world. We talked about our goals, our aspirations and what we want to do with our careers – collectively. Mind you, not part of the study design, yet meaningful all the same. We discussed chairing multinational finance companies to being the Deputy Director-General at the World Health Organisation. No glass ceilings, right?
Importantly, it’s not only the role of the organisation, the Principal or the classroom teacher. Female leaders – I am looking at you. We have a critical part to play in nurturing aspirant and developing leaders that walk the talk and demonstrate a commitment to reducing barriers to women’s participation at the senior level. As leaders we must be advocates for diversity and remember to recognise the achievements of those who have gone before and paved the way. Thankfully the days where there is only one of us are long gone.
And finally, it is my belief that inspiring young people and young girls to know there are no glass ceilings is a shared responsibility, one that we should not take lightly. So, break the glass. Never think you need to apologise. Stop ‘just wondering’. As a new generation rising, now is the time to be courageous in heart and mind, to lead with empathy and to step up with confidence and conviction.