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Anything is Possible – Jennifer Oaten

Anything is Possible – Jennifer Oaten

Leading an all girls’ school with a high proportion of female employees, I am fortunate to be surrounded by many competent, intelligent women (and men) who are not only dedicated professionals, they are outstanding in their chosen field. These women are strong yet compassionate, capable yet humble and are mentors and role models for the young women we educate. One of our challenges is to ensure we continue to increase the number of excellent male employees to provide a balanced workplace. Many workplaces, however, are male-dominated, and the breakdown of these barriers is something that schools, parents and society need to focus on.

I want every girl at Santa Maria College to believe anything is possible regarding what she chooses for her future.

The world of work....the reality

The challenge for our graduates is that many workplaces, particularly in specific industries such as construction, are male-dominated. Only 11.8% of women work in the construction industry, while women in the wider workplace hold 45.7% of roles.

Industries

% Females Employees

% Female Managers

All Industries

45.7 % of employees

33% of managers

Construction

11.8 % of employees

16% of managers

Mining

15.1% of employees

13% of managers

Utilities

22.6% of employees

16% of managers

The mining, construction and utilities industries have historically been perceived to be a ‘man’s domain’, and the representation of women has remained low. In Australia, organisations in these industries have had difficulties attracting women to consider and apply for jobs, and they have also had challenges in retaining female employees.

In recent years we have seen a slow increase of women entering male-dominated areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. However, there is still a long way to go in these, and many other career paths to ensure equality of genders.

In male-dominated industries, increasing gender diversity by employing more females is known to increase productivity. Many workplaces benefit from attracting a wider range of applicants as it brings different perspectives and can change the culture for the better. A critical mass of women at all levels of organisations, including senior management, has also been linked to higher organisational performance. Attracting and retaining this underutilised source of talented women is key to addressing the skills shortage many workplaces face. Workplaces need to focus on an approach that ensures positive outcomes for both the organisation and employees.

According to a Cornell University study, women in male-dominated careers face challenges that include feeling incompetent, lack of voice, salary differences, mistreatment and lack of support.

So how can we give our graduates opportunities in these fields, help them overcome these challenges, improve the gender balance and ensure longevity?  We want our graduates to choose these fields of work and thrive in these once male-dominated industries.

What role do schools, parents and society have to play to ensure their future success?

Role of Schools

Our Santa Maria College Strategic Plan (2021-2025) states

We believe that if we develop diverse pathways, flexible programs and partnerships, we will be able to provide learning opportunities and progression in the development of future skills and attributes for all members of our community.

The strategic opportunities we have identified are that very closely linked to encouraging girls into non-traditional roles include:

2.1       Embed innovative programs to enable flexible learning

2.4       Create partnerships for learning

3.1       Establish innovative ways for our students to learn practical life skills to make a difference in the world.

Schools need to showcase pathways for women into male-dominated fields and broaden their students’ vision of what is possible for them. Exposing them to capable women who have been successful in these fields and providing them with time in the given fields can raise awareness of what opportunities exist. We need young women willing to step out of their comfort zone and try something non-traditional such as our recent Try a Trade opportunity, which our students embraced wholeheartedly.

As a school, we need to ensure work placements provide these opportunities. We need to implement courses and co-curricular activities at school that stimulate interest in trades and other fields of work. We also need to develop partnerships with organisations willing to support girls in these industries and recognise and promote girls who make these choices. This is all part of our Strategic Plan.

In tandem with this, we need to equip our girls with the attributes to succeed in their chosen fields. For example, having a voice and negotiating, having the confidence to demonstrate their full capabilities, applying for leadership roles, and building networks of support both within and beyond organisations.

Role of Parents

One of the most significant barriers to female participation, particularly in trades, is social perception.

Many men learn about potential roles in these industries from their fathers or other male relatives. Parents significantly influence decisions to encourage or discourage young girls from pursuing science and engineering subjects or careers in trades.

Parents can assist by discussing non-traditional pathways by connecting their daughters with great role models or linking them with others who can share their wisdom via podcasts or blogs.

Role of Society

There are many reasons why we should encourage more women into non-traditional roles. The challenge lies in overcoming social perceptions and encouraging industries to make cultural changes that will see more women choose and have successful careers in trades. We need to remove the belief that some roles are a ‘man’s domain’ and encourage a cultural shift to social equality.

Partnerships with schools, recruitment programs that actively encourage female apprentices, and one-to-one mentoring programs should be pursued. Even in heavily male-dominated fields, some men want to be allies to the women they work with. This support, mentorship and advice are also so valuable to women in these workplaces.

Workplaces need to ensure that their culture includes women and that they are not perceived as having a male-orientated culture with acceptance of behaviours that could be viewed as discriminating against women.

Schools, parents, and workplaces need to work together. They need to embrace the incredible talents young women have to offer and implement strategies to ensure the data, in future years, reflects positive changes. Positive changes in the numbers of women in these roles, in leadership, and that there is equity in the salaries they receive.

For me, most importantly, it is to remind our girls to believe anything is possible in the world of work.

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