Women in Education
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Women in Education
Workplace and Association role crucial for representation
Recently I was asked at a beginning teacher conference why we have the Women’s Contact position when teaching is a predominantly female profession. The short answer is that it’s about the importance of women’s representation.
It is important for women to have a strong collective voice and a visible presence in all levels of decision making. An ongoing examination of women’s representation and what that can look like not only in society or politics but also at our workplaces, Associations, our state Council and Annual Conference ultimately benefits us all.
Historically, the majority of school and workplace leaders were men; Federation Representatives, Association office bearers, state Councillors and Annual Conference delegates were men. Many women were excluded from these leadership positions by the then system’s structures, or societal expectations, and therefore not able to fully engage in the decision-making processes of the profession. Check out our poster “A quick history of women teachers’ rights in NSW”.
The role of Women’s Contact began via Annual Conference decisions as an affirmative action position introduced in the mid-1970s in order to promote the status of women to one “of equality with men”. The position then achieved similar status to Federation Representatives in the 1980s, which included being Federation’s “recognised spokesperson on matters relating to sexual harassment and intimidation”.
Federation made a conscious structural decision to ensure that women’s participation was encouraged, increased and valued. The establishment of the Women’s Contact position has, over time, given women a space and a voice at workplaces, Associations, Council and Annual Conference and the opportunity to develop different types and levels of leadership.
Interestingly, the current Department of Education Code of Conduct states in chapter 2 that the “Code places an obligation on all of us to take responsibility for our own conduct and work with colleagues cooperatively to establish consultative and collaborative workplaces where people are happy and proud to work.”
It’s also been fascinating to watch the role modelling of what leadership can look like by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, especially after the horrific events in Christchurch.
A tweet by Magda Szubanski (21 March, 2019) coined the phrase “to Ardern up” and defined it as “to show strength and decency, compassion and true leadership”. This was widely shared across social media and showed that there is a real desire for a change in how leadership is defined and demonstrated.
Federation is committed to supporting women in the workplace through the Women’s Program and our Trade Union Training program, which have established courses and seminars to support and develop skills for all of the elected Federation roles.
The position of Women’s Contact is vital because we still operate within a structure originally designed by men at a time when men held the positions of power and authority in decision making and because change has been hard fought and won but slow in the achieving.
Filling the position at your workplace and Association strengthens Federation and enables us to be part of a team who together continue to actively work for gender equity.
— Leeanda Smith Women’s Coordinator
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