Empowering Girls to Create the Change – Jennifer Oaten Principal

Is your daughter’s opinion heard and valued at home?

Opportunities at home and school are the two places your daughter will develop a voice, an opinion and the confidence to speak her mind. Interestingly, research suggests that fathers who listen and encourage their daughters to justify or give evidence for their opinion, rather than imposing their own opinion, go a long way to ensuring their success in the boardroom.

In 2018, women in Australia made up 50.4% of the population according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The number of women holding CEO roles in Australia is only 17%.

We believe that our girls at Santa Maria College have the opportunity to create the change. The change where women have equal representation in politics, in business and the senior leadership roles in Australia. We are continually working with our girls to develop the courage and skills to be these future leaders.

To create the change, what leadership skills do our girls need?

Courage and belief

To climb the corporate ladder of leadership, our girls need courage and self-belief. The belief they are highly capable of success in these roles and the courage to go for it.


They need to be agile. Girls should step out of their comfort zone and try a new role or position. This will enable them to develop diverse experience and expertise in a variety of areas.

Ability to seek opportunities

Girls need to be seeking leadership development opportunities and actively pursuing leadership roles if they genuinely aspire to positions of influence. It will open up many windows of possibility.

Ability to take risks

The ability to take risks, and having the confidence to learn as they go, rather than being fully skilled before taking on a role.

Great communication skills

Great communication skills begin with having a presence, having an opinion and the confidence to speak up and be heard. It’s not enough to just be in a role or to just sit at the board table. They must be able to speak confidently, regardless of the odds faced. Respect comes when their voice is heard. Being informed and knowledgeable is also essential.

Build your network

It is important to build networks and be known in different circles. At school through Homeroom, House and Co-Curricular activities girls have many opportunities to build different networks. The same applies when they leave school, they need to build their networks within the business community.

Connecting Learning to Life Attributes

We recently launched our Connecting Learning to Life attributes. These attributes will provide a strong foundation for future leadership roles. Having a presence and being known as a capable, collaborative leader who demonstrates respect, justice, compassion and excellence is important. Being a good person and a good leader must go hand in hand.

How do we develop leadership skills in our girls at Santa Maria College?

Every subject is valuable, but in terms of organisational leadership, these four subjects provide great opportunities:

  1. Drama enables students to develop confidence and presence.
  2. Politics and Law develops knowledge and helps in the formation of opinions.
  3. Economics ensures understanding of the world around us.
  4. Accounting and Business courses provide knowledge in the area of finance.

These skills are all critical in organisational leadership.

If our girls are to develop an ‘I can’ attitude towards organisational leadership, it is essential for them to see women in leadership roles around them; at school, in their families, amongst our alumni and in their initial endeavours into the world of work. We see no limitations, so we hope our girls believe they can do anything, lead any organisation and be considered as equals for any role.

What leadership opportunities are available at Santa Maria College?

16 girls in every year group and 29 in Year 12 have the opportunity to be a leader each year, along with many unbadged roles. These opportunities, along with co-curricular activities such as public speaking, sports captains, service group leaders and roles, provide opportunities to develop leadership skills.

This week I was interviewed, by a researcher, regarding females in leadership roles in Catholic schools and what are the greatest challenges we face.

The challenges I shared included:

  • being a Faith Leader in a secular society,
  • the diversity of my role (from – Strategic Planning, Teaching and Learning, Pastoral Care, Enrolments, Master Planning and Buildings, Boarding, Financial Management, Human Resources and Communications),
  • the role you play in being the face of school and interactions with staff, students and parents, and
  • the biggest challenge, balancing work, life and family time.

There is no question for me, the rewards of being a leader outweigh the challenges I face, and I hope the future will see more of our Santa Maria girls in CEO roles, on prominent boards (particularly not for profit). Not everyone chooses to be a leader, but our girls have the potential to have a voice and to make a difference. Let’s work together to create the change that Australia needs and ensure, that in the future, there is equal representation of females involved in decision making.

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