Women in Leadership

“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.”

Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady

During the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Association – Fearless GirlsStrong Women Conference 2018, I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by Dr Nicole Archard, Principal of Loreto College Marryatville and Professor Manjula Waniganayake, Department of Educational Studies, Macquarie University. This presentation highlighted the significant opportunities available to young women in leadership and the role of teachers and families in providing leadership opportunities. Professor Waniganayake noted leadership and identity can be affected by a combination of factors, including gender, culture and class.

Leadership is defined as, “the action of leading a group of people or an organisation, or the ability to do this” Leadership opportunities can be found in organised activities, co-curricular opportunities and within the classroom. The contextualisation of women in leadership, can be seen in the creation of the Female Leadership Identity, which is the combination of the constructs of leadership in the following areas:

  • Family
  • Society
  • School
  • Personal

The Construct of Leadership, in each of these areas is seen in the social and cultural transference through words and actions. The School construct of Leadership is seen within the opportunities and activities students participate in by encouragement, engagement, experience, leadership opportunities, programs and within the classroom.

The personal construct of leadership in young women is often thought of by young people as ‘popularity and friendship’, rather than leadership opportunities taken through experiences, facilitating the individual’s leadership identity.

The Familial Construct of Leadership can be reflected in the family’s cultural understandings being role modelled in the home. Allowing the shared responsibility of chores and pocket money being equal for daughters and sons in the home, can go a long way to breaking down the expectations of our daughters in ensuring they stand firm in the equality of women in the workplace and see themselves as potential leaders.

Through research into family constructs, it can be found that chores around the home are often found to be given a gender bias, such as sons are given the chore of mowing the lawn, whilst daughters are given the chore of doing the washing or cleaning the kitchen, with the so called harder job of mowing the lawn, given more money than the household chores. It is easy to see, in this scenario, how the gender equity in balance can begin early in the lives of young women.

Archard, Morda and Waniganayake, in their paper titled Teachers’ roles in building Students’ Leadership Identity (2017), noted “The extent to which the early formation of leadership potential can create or reinforce gendered assumptions is strongly aligned to the beliefs and attitudes towards women in a given society. Moreover, these societal ‘norms’ can impact on girls’ ability to fulfil leadership roles during their childhood as well as throughout their lives.”

At St Catherine’s we are being intentional in our language around becoming independent young women.

“Leadership is a series of behaviours rather than a role for heroes.”

Margaret Wheatley, writer

Dr Terry Fitzsimmons from the Australian Gender Equity Council, also presenting at the Conference, pointed to issues with self-efficacy and self-confidence in the corporate workplace. Dr Fitzsimmons reflected on the elements having the largest contribution to self-efficacy for girls and boys as:

  • Team Sports (16%)
  • Leadership Development and Training Courses (13%)
  • Travel inside State/Territory (7%)
  • Interstate Travel (7%)
  • Individual Sport (4%)

Dr Fitzsimmons noted computer games had a negative effect on the self efficacy of young people. He noted that international travel with families does not have a significant effect on self efficacy, although it was felt by others, international travel in school programs and exchanges have a similar effect on self-confidence as interstate travel.

Encouraging our girls to have an opinion and speak up and have a voice, ensures they are not silenced by the long standing societal expectations of women.

We are all responsible, as parents, teachers and peers, in breaking down the inequity of female leadership and opportunities that exist in society.

Mrs Gina Peele

Director of Student Programs

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