Women in Leadership show the way

Principals Leanne Dowling, Mary Hutchison, Marina Keegan and Kathy Wesolowski didn't realise the difference they could make for women in education.

While working together as a part of a Barwon Area Community of Practice, the four women perceived a need to support the development of more female leaders – particularly as the majority of the Victorian educational workforce are women.

'The data says that there's a low number of women in leadership – over 70 per cent of the workforce is women, but it's not reflected in leadership in schools,' Geelong South Primary School Principal Leanne said.

The group realised that one of the barriers to career progression was the different approaches men and women seemed to take when applying for leadership roles.

'We saw that women will sit back and wait, thinking that other people are more ready for the role, as well as encouraging and supporting others before they do so themselves – but men learn by doing,' Leanne said.

From this, the Women in Leadership group was formed.

'We started asking ourselves – what will we do about it?' Roslyn Primary School principal Mary said.

'We sent out a few emails to our networks, thinking about what we could do if we got together. We invited any woman who wanted to come to the first session – and then were overwhelmed when over 50 people came.'

From there, the group met once a term, with a diverse group of attendees brainstorming solutions to help increase the number of women in leadership positions.

One of the first things the group did was identify the barriers to advancement, with women sharing their stories about not having enough confidence in their abilities, the negative perceptions about working part-time or working while having young children.

Women supporting women

'Women felt they couldn't apply for leadership roles because they were at the age of starting a family,' Leanne said.

The sessions however, provided the opportunity to hear from current principals in that position.

'It really highlighted that these aren't barriers in a modern world,' Leanne said.  

Moving forward

Since then, the group have worked together to workshop resumes, develop their interview and writing skills, and change their mindset when applying for roles. Sessions have also involved guest speakers from diverse backgrounds, including corporate leaders, classroom teachers and those in leading teacher roles.

They also developed a small library of professional resources that the women had collected over their career journey, to pass onto the next generation of female leaders, as well as mentorship opportunities.

'Having a great mentor – it's so important, they can help you through advice and encouragement, to give you the confidence to put yourself out there and apply for leadership positions,' said Grovedale Primary School Principal Kathy.

For Mandama Primary School Principal Marina, a lot of the work the group does is 'trying to make sure young women believe in themselves; that they can do this work; what they are doing is worthwhile, and their work is appreciated'.

Leanne said the response to the group's work and the success of their networks had exceeded expectations.

'Women have gone on to apply for leadership positions and have been successful,' Leanne said.

Many of the women from the group have also proactively taken steps to progress their career, using their PDP opportunities to shadow a leader and start the conversation about becoming a leader.

For Mary, this translated to a higher number of women in leadership positions in schools.

'It's so important to have women in leadership, because we have so much to offer - I believe women see things differently and bring a different way of doing things in a school,' Mary said.

'We need female leaders to act as role models and start encouraging women early. They need to consider their leadership potential and seize that moment.'