Wesley College has long been invested in equality. But our Head of College, Mr Ross Barron, joining CEOs for Gender Equity sends a clear public message about our beliefs. Here, he explains his motivation.
John Wesley, the 18th-century theologian who founded Methodism, had strong opinions about women. However, unlike many of his contemporaries, his views were based on a desire for equality. He objected to the prevailing patriarchal view that women should be seen and not heard, calling this the ‘deepest unkindness’ and a ‘horrid cruelty’.
As a College named in John Wesley’s honour, we have always sought to emulate his views. We want to be a place where our values of compassion, courage, integrity and respect are a lived experience for students and staff.
Of course, it would be disingenuous to say that, over the course of 100 years, staff and students at Wesley College have never fallen short. We absolutely have. But what has really come into focus recently for me is the importance of listening to women at our College and their stories, believing them and doing something about it, uncovering our blind spots and educating ourselves.
To that end, I’m proud to have become a member of CEOs for Gender Equity, a group that is committed to influencing and inspiring leaders to do better by ensuring they remove systemic barriers that hinder gender balance. After all, change occurs faster when it is driven from the top.
This is an important step in a nuanced and multi-faceted process that Wesley has been undertaking earnestly over the last year. The work began on International Women’s Day 2021. It was clear that things had to change. Brave male and female staff members spoke up and shared their experiences of sexism and gender inequity at the College. It was hard to hear.
This was a significant moment for our College. We immediately began formalising specific processes to ensure Wesley is a place where everyone is treated equally and with respect and we know it is a work in progress
A Gender Equality Advisory Panel was formed, with more than 30 staff volunteering to take stock of equality, equity and sexism at Wesley.
As a school, we go out of our way to employ staff who will model positive behaviour. Kind individuals who certainly don’t seek to offend others. We hope that this will flow on to our students. But the examples that came through made us realise that simply expecting that everyone knows where the line is with sexism isn’t enough.
Equity needs to be actively taught.
Not because people (in the main) go around negatively thinking about their peers in terms of gendered capabilities, but because inequities are so ingrained in our societal structure that many of us don’t even see the mistakes we’re making.
After months of listening, researching best practices and deeply frank discussion, the Gender Equality Advisory Panel created an Action Plan so that we could make tangible change.
Some of these action points addressed non-negotiables – for example, every single member of our 400-plus staff has now taken a sexual harassment training course to ensure there is zero doubt about definitions of sexual harassment and a clear understanding of how to file an internal or external complaint.
We also implemented mandatory workshops examining the quiet assumptions that are present in the way we speak to each other. The everyday sexism that rarely gets called out. This dovetailed perfectly with the 2022 theme of International Women’s Day: Break the Bias, and the Unconscious Bias training undertaken by our senior and middle leaders.
We have also strengthened Wesley’s Contact Officer Network by sending 13 staff to Contact Officer training run by the Equal Opportunity Commission, to make it easier for staff to discuss their concerns with a peer as a first step to elevating an issue.
Again, I make no assertion that we are now perfect, but there has been a tonal shift in how we communicate as staff, as teachers, as students. As a group, we have reflected on our personal blind spots. Those who want to improve have done so. Those who don’t want to improve know that they are not welcome here.
Perhaps most importantly, we’ve worked to ensure that everyone feels empowered and supported to call out micro-aggressions as they occur. As a team, we stand together. Nobody should ever have to feel that they’re ‘making a fuss’ if they speak up.
This is why I joined CEOs for Gender Equity. There was a time when I didn’t see the full picture of how gender influences the experience of people at Wesley. Now my eyes have been opened. It’s my hope that if there is a tidal wave of leaders across all industries talking about the issue and driving a change in workplace culture, change will occur much faster.
There is much to do.
You can read more of Ross’ views on Gender Equity here: www.ceosforgenderequity.com.au/wesleycollege
Or watch the video created by CEOs For Gender Equity, below:
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