Celebrating International Women’s Day at Wesley


Guest Blogger, Dr Deborah Netolicky, Dean of Research and Pedagogy


Wesley College is a school committed to social justice. The motto that we live and breathe—‘by daring and by doing’—resonates with the 2017 theme for International Women’s Day: #BeBoldForChange. While some might argue that women’s issues shouldn’t be singled out or tokenised through a day on the calendar or a board quota, we live in a world in which inequities persist. There remains a gender equity gap, as evidenced by persistent gender pay gaps. Global politics, events and companies reveal that not everyone celebrates diversity or pursues parity for all.


Education is a microcosm for the world, as suggested by the February 2017 report by the French High Council for Gender Equality. It argues that schools are a reflection of society, a place of socialisation and emotional learning for students that can perpetuate gendered stereotypes and inequities. While the teaching profession is dominated by women, school leadership globally remains a male-dominated field associated with masculine qualities (Cunneen & Harford, 2016). UNESCO’s 2016 gender review notes that meaningfully and equitably engaging women and men as leaders and decision-makers at global, national and local levels, significantly contributes to gender equality in society.


Our Headmaster David Gee sees his responsibility to girls and women in the Wesley community as to show that there are many styles of leadership, and to do what he can to support women and men in balancing family with leadership development according to their individual goals and circumstances. He told me that the best person, regardless of gender, should be appointed to any job, including that of Principal; “I’d love to see a boys’ school take on a female Head.”


The UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles involve fairness, equity, advocacy, wellbeing and education. Wesley students—girls and boys in the co-educational Junior and Middle Schools, and boys in the Senior School—have the challenge to dare, do, and be bold for positive change. They will throughout their lives have opportunities to advocate for social justice and for gender parity, to become champions of equity and fairness for themselves and for others.


Year 6 students have been studying gender parity in Philosophy, Religion and Ethical Perspectives, and have been inspired by the #likeagirl movement. Student comments from this unit include: “At Wesley we are recognising International Women’s Day because we want to promote and celebrate the achievements of women who can sometimes be unrecognised and we do not think that is equal and fair”; “Women can be scientists, they are strong, they can rescue you, they are brave, they can play rough sport and they can work big jobs just like men”; and, “International Women’s Day is a day when people show respect appreciation and love to women for their achievements and accomplishments. It is so everyone can believe in themselves and to try and stop gender inequality.”


Year 8 students have been engaging in the Library’s ‘reading without walls’ challenge, which involves reading books outside their comfort zones. These books celebrate and explore diversity of race, religion, gender, geography, sexual orientation, class and ability. They include characters like Muslim Pakistani-American superhero Ms. Marvel and queer Latino superhero America Chavez.


In Senior School, students are embarking on Service Learning and Community Service in order to have a positive impact on the world. Throughout the College, from Pre-Kindergarten to Year 12, Wesley students are participating in Social and Emotional Learning programs designed to increase awareness of self and others.


International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to recognise and celebrate girls and women in our midst, to bring mindfulness to issues of gender, to assess our own beliefs and behaviours, and to acknowledge that not all women have access to equal opportunities. As part of this raising of awareness, students at Wesley will be selling purple wrist bands across the College on the 8th of March and donating funds to CARE Australia, a humanitarian organisation providing relief to poor communities globally with a special focus on working with women and girls to bring about lasting change.


Reflecting on my own notions of being bold for change, of daring and doing and being my own best self, I feel proud of and grateful for the opportunity in recent years to work in leadership and teaching roles at Wesley while completing a PhD and parenting two young boys. Wesley as a workplace has flexibly allowed me to be a good parent and lifelong learner, as well as a committed educator and developing researcher. Below are some of comments from other female Wesley leaders on gender parity and being bold for change.


I am so proud I took three and a half years out of a high-paced career to be there for my boys when they were babies. It was at the time, a bold and unorthodox career choice in a workplace where rapidly returning to work was the hallmark of ambition and commitment. If I’m honest, it was not without its consequences for the trajectory of my career – but oh, what freedom to be the kind of mum I chose to be! Sometimes, choosing the path less travelled is a challenging and risky decision. Supporting those around me so they feel equally empowered to make the right choices for them is how I pay it forward. ~ Dee Bignell, Manager (Human Resources)


Gender parity will improve when we as a broader society, but particularly in workplaces, start to value ‘typically’ feminine characteristics (attentiveness to others, sensitivity) as much as we do the ‘typically’ masculine (forceful, assertive). This should be part of achieving a balanced perspective to problem solving and decision making in any organisation. Wesley shows leadership in this area from a staff perspective and also through its conscious focus on social justice for students. ~ Debra Reinecke, Director of Community Relations


Moving to Wesley from MLC, I am hopeful that I can work with young men and promote the idea of them being ‘male champions of change’. David Gee is an example of this; he actively and intentionally includes women in his organisation and leadership teams. Women and men need to work collaboratively to better the gender situation for all and establish a community that supports and promotes men to support women in all areas of their lives. Gender equality is the unfinished business of the past century. We owe it to those who came before us and to keep on pushing for change. ~ Jannine Webb, Dean of Students (Senior School)


I am very proud to have worked these last thirteen years in a co-educational school. I am even prouder of our girls, minority by number but not by spirit, heart and boldness. Learning to be who they want to be, standing up and advocating for themselves. To learn and play in an environment that replicates the real world is to me, as an educator, the most beneficial form of education in these formative years. ~ Candice Clynk (Dean of Curriculum PK-6)


I used to be very conscious of gender difference and worked hard to ‘level the playing field’. I encouraged the people in my sphere of influence to see the differences and strive for equality. Now I don’t see the differences. I just look for what people stand for and what actions they take to make the world a better place. Equality is a global term and not specific to one group. Being for one group tends to isolate us from others. I believe in working for all people for a fair outcome regardless of gender, race or ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, class, immigration status or disability. It is in being inclusive that we are strongest and can make a difference. Frankly, I’m wishing for a time that we don’t need an IWD. ~ Wendy Sinden, Dean of Campus Administration


Patriarchal ideology simmers at the subliminal level in the Western World and impacts on the way individuals see themselves and others – often without the awareness that it does. De Beauvoir said, ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’; gender is a social construct. Encapsulated by our school motto Audendo Atque Agendo, we encourage students to recalibrate their mindset to think for themselves (rather than simply accept the norm) and to have the courage to stand up for what is right. ~ Janine Parkinson, Head of Social and Emotional Learning


My mother, at 83, is still a fiercely independent woman. She was raised in a very traditional household in Greece where the women (and girls) looked after the men. It was a time of respect and she dared not speak out, but she fought for her own rights along the way. She insisted her parents allow her to finish her schooling. This was not the norm for girls. She insisted she marry someone of her own choosing and when this was frowned upon she brought herself to Australia. No family, no friends, no language, just a young 20-something year old Greek girl, never having worked before, arriving in Sydney Harbour, all alone. The belief she had in herself and in what women were capable of, landed her a job. She integrated, learnt to speak English and never looked back! She married an Australian man and never gave up fighting for her independence as a woman. My mother showed me that women can do and be what they want. That we are just as worthy as our male counterparts and that striving and working hard will lead to success. Women can be accomplished in the workforce, as much as we can as mothers and wives. We can have it all! ~ Maria Hodges, Head of Junior School


Cunneen, M., & Harford, J. (2016). Gender matters: Women’s experiences of the route to principalship in Ireland. In K. Fuller and J. Harford (eds.). Gender and leadership: Women achieving against the odds. Peter Lang.

Global Education Monitoring Report. (2016). Gender review: Creating sustainable futures for all. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

High Council for Equality. (2017). Gender equality training for girls and boys: making teachers and educators the driving force behind learning and experiencing equality. France.

Workplace Gender Equity Agency. (2017). Gender equity insights 2017: Inside Australia’s gender pay gap. Australia