Facing the glass ceiling

I have always been passionate about girls education.

I had the privilege to give the occasional adddress at Randwick Girls High School this year. I decided to talk about the glass ceiling. As teachers, we often tell girls that they can achieve anything. Of course they can, but they also need to be aware of the structural barriers that women face. Below is a transcript of my occasional address.

Good afternoon Ms Andre, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, parents and caregivers, and most importantly the young women in front of me today. I would like to pay my respect and acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which this meeting takes place, and also pay respect to Elders both past and present. I am absolutely honoured to be part of this presentation day ceremony with you.

May I begin by congratulating all of you on reaching the end of a wonderful year of learning. This is a momentous time for you as you celebrate your academic, sporting and extracurricular achievements. Today is a day of acknowledgement of the sustained commitment to your schooling. Congratulations on the young women who are receiving prizes and congratulations to those who are not yet receiving prizes. Every one of you should be celebrating your successes, achievements and progress this year. We also need to acknowledge those who have supported you. Your teachers, parents, carers, families and friends all deserve recognition for their commitment to your education.

Sixteen years ago, I was just like you, sitting in the MPC. I graduated from Randwick Girls High School in 2001 with a UAI, which was the ATAR back then, of 94.40. After I graduated I went onto study a double degree in Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Science at the University of Sydney. At the end of Year 12, I was awarded the TeachNSW scholarship by the NSW Department of Education which meant my two degrees were paid for and I was guaranteed a permanent position in a NSW public school. After graduating from university, I was appointed as a science teacher at Auburn Girls High School. After 3 years, I became the science head teacher at Merrylands High School. After 6 years at Merrylands, I moved to my current position as Stage 6 Advisor where I lead all aspects of Year 11 and 12 across NSW public schools.

I chose to become a science teacher because I had a brilliant science teacher myself. Her teaching made me love science, especially biology. I had this teacher every year as my science teacher in year 8, 9 and 10 and then as my biology teacher in year 11 and 12. That teacher was Ms Andre. You have no idea how lucky you are to now have Ms Andre as your principal.

It was not only Ms Andre who instilled a love of learning in me. While I’m passionate about science, I enjoy learning about anything, and this is because of the fantastic teachers I had at Randwick Girls. Some of them I know are still teaching here. Ms Posener was my deputy and wrote the reference that got me my TeachNSW scholarship. Ms McLean was my geography teacher in year 7. Ms Baker was my English Advanced teacher in Year 11 and Ms Neroutsos was my Year 12 software design and development teacher.

Despite what is often said in the media, I became a teacher by choice. My university entrance score was more than enough to get into my teaching degree. I love being a teacher. It is the best job in the whole world. Being a teacher means you are constantly creative. Constantly learning. No one day is the same. While it may sound stereotypical, teaching is a job where you do make a difference. Every. Single. Day.

However, when I announced I wanted to be a teacher at the end of Year 10, I was told by countless people I was wasting my UAI by choosing teaching. “But you’ll be wasting your UAI.” I ignored that. I have never regretted becoming a teacher. There was another response I got, which I’ll classify as interesting as it can be interpreted in many ways. “Teaching is a great career to raise a family.” That kind of comment only became interesting to me as I grew older and understood the assumptions behind it. Would they have said that to me if I was boy?

I also remember other comments that I didn’t understand when I was younger that is also interesting. My male cousins teasing each other because I beat one of them in handball. “Sucked in. You got beaten by a girl.” He said.  Do we ever hear, “Sucked in. You got beaten by a boy”?  As I got older, I came across other interesting comments: “Why is there an international day of women? When is the international day for men?” It’s not fair. We don’t need quotas for women in leadership positions. They should get there by merit.”

Growing up at school, I always knew there was equity issues facing girls. I heard something called the glass ceiling but I didn’t know what it was. Fast forward 16 years. I’m just beginning to understand the glass ceiling. When I got my current role as Stage 6 Advisor, someone said to me “Really? But you’re pregnant.” I was pregnant with my second child when I was selected for my current role.

Here are some statistics from the Australian Human Rights Commission to give you more of an idea of the glass ceiling:

  • Women make up about 46% of the workforce but they take home on average $280.20 less than men each week. The average Australian woman has to work an extra 66 days a year to earn the same pay as the average man. This pay gap has been stuck around this number for the last 20 years. This means it hasn’t changed much since I was sitting in this hall as a student.
  • Women’s superannuation payout is on average 57% of men’s. Just over half of men’s.
  • Australian women are over-represented in part-time, low-paid industries and in insecure work. They are underrepresented in leadership roles in the private and public sectors.
  • Mothers spend 8 hours and 33 minutes per day looking after children. Fathers spend 3 hours 55 minutes per day.
  • Australia was ranked 15th in the world on gender equality in 2006. In 2013, we fell to 24th.

Women are also underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and engineering fields. A study conducted by the United Nations University found that female scientists were more productive than male scientists but they were perceived to be less so, and were rewarded much less for their achievements.

I also read a news article this year about two women who were starting up an online business. They won’t being taken seriously. People won’t replying to their emails or took a very long time to do. So they ended up creating a fake male partner called Keith Mann. When they sent emails as Keith Mann, quote “suddenly everyone was dropping everything to make sure they were responding and keeping him happy.”

I also remember this quote from Jane Caro, a journalist, who said “men are assumed to have merit unless proved otherwise. Women, no matter what boxes they tick, are assumed to have no merit unless they can prove otherwise.”

So what can we do?

I wish I now had a list of dot points that I can read out. I wish I could say if you do this and this and this, the glass ceiling will be gone.

As young women, it is very likely that you will come across the glass ceiling. My advice to you is to keep learning. Put your energy, resources and efforts into your education. Listen to your teachers. It is through a quality education that you will develop critical thinking skills, the ability to see structural inequity and the ability to break down those barriers for yourself and others. A quality education will enable you to be financially independent.

Facing the glass ceiling is tough. Develop emotional resilience and stay strong when you meet unreasonableness.

Expect the best for yourself. Always remember your career is as important as your partners.

If you are aware of any kind of discrimination, do something about it. Support the person affected. The next time you hear something like “you got beaten by a girl”, say something. The standard we walk past is the standard we accept. It is all of our responsibility to protect the rights of others.

Even though girls and women still have a lot of equity hurdles to cross, we are making progress. Every one of you will have tremendous possibilities. You go to a great school. You have great teachers.

Once again, I’d like to congratulate today’s award winners each one of you on your progress this year. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

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