Championing women's education for change
This International Women’s Day (IWD) we spoke with one of our Leadership for Senior Executive Women course alumnus, Captain Christine Clarke, CSC, RAN. No stranger to leading in a male-dominated industry, Christine has spent the better part of the last 10 years working for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).
She’s held a number of significant roles. Most notably, on her journey accelerating the ranks, as Commanding Officer of naval base HMAS Kuttabul from 2009 – 2012. She was awarded a Conspicuous Service Cross in the 2013 Australia Day Honours List for excellence in leading this establishment. Since 2006, she’s also led countless women of the Australian Defence Force in playing rugby – one might say, another considerably male-dominated space - as the Women’s National Operations Manager for the Australian Services Women’s Rugby team.
Today Christine channels her passion for supporting and leading growth and camaraderie in the workplace into her role as Head Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Office (SeMPRO), Department of Defence.
In the spirit of IWD’s 2017 campaign #BeBoldForChange, Christine says we need a new approach to educating and supporting women if we are to forge a more inclusive, gender-equal working world.
What do you see as the key barrier to women’s advancement in the workplace?
“Throughout my personal and professional experience, I’ve seen that the view persists that women are less committed to their career if they take a career break. Usually, but not always, this view is associated with caring responsibilities,” Christine says.
“At best they can return at the same level. Although many will have to recover lost ground or are expected to undertake less meaningful work because it is presumed that they cannot meet the demands of both work and caring responsibilities.”
Christine’s insights mimic those of Dr Terry Fitzsimmons, Lecturer in Leadership, UQ Business School. He flags caregiving as a key inhibitor to workplace gender equality in our 2016 article.
“If you don’t have one of the ‘Four Pillars’ - a supportive spouse, a supportive extended family, a flexible workplace, or reliable childcare, then it becomes difficult for women to work,” he says.
How can Australian workplaces address this barrier?
“We need to engage women in the discussion about their careers. We need to reduce the ‘patriarchal’ decision-making in the absence of their input,” Christine says.
“I think we also need to guard against flexible work options being used to perpetuate the myth that women are not as committed to their careers. Women actually need flexible careers.”
Many organisations have a structured ‘grow your talent from the bottom’ approach for workplace progression, and while structure is important, this approach often comes with “specified gateways”. Gateways with measures of skill, competency, and qualification attached to them.
Christine says we need to provide more targeted and tailored professional development options. "This would make progression for women in the workplace easier; particularly if they are unable to meet prerequisites in structured block time constructs.”
“Education is an essential component in advancing women. There is a clear need to be technically competent to undertake their roles, but also, to have current knowledge in their area of interest and knowledge that is specific to female leadership.
“There needs to be a fulsome assessment of the actual requirements for progression rather than continuing to apply the “one size fits all” approach. Women and men do lead differently, so their pathways to professional growth should reflect this," she says.
The #BeBoldForChange campaign provides a number of suggestions around taking action to help women and girls achieve their ambitions. Many of these suggestions reflect Christine’s notions. Among the examples for working towards gender-balanced leadership and inclusive, flexible workplace cultures, IWD suggest be bold for change and:
- value diversity for greater educational outcomes
- drive fairer recognition and credit for women’s contributions
- take a junior female colleague to a major meeting or event
- mentor a woman and sponsor her goals, and
- celebrate and support women’s achievements.
Why is education with a specific focus on female leadership so important in forging the advancement of women?
While there are a number of benefits to undertaking professional development in a mixed cohort, Christine highlights the value of gender specific education - common understanding and context.
"I have found that women-only programs can help to create the content and dialogue necessary to stimulate new thinking around the shared gendered experiences of participants," she says.
"The other, often underestimated factor here is the assurance and confidence that comes with knowledge. To step onto the ‘world stage’ you have to feel confident and clear in your thoughts and actions. It’s this confidence that enables you to chase or embrace advancement opportunities."
Christine credits having role models and a supportive network as key to her professional growth and the progression of women leaders in general.
“Collaboration with, and mentoring of women, by women, is essential to facilitate the advancement of women.”
“A shared understanding of the challenges facing women can be the basis for a strong and effective mentoring relationship.
“I leveraged this network and shared understanding when I undertook Leadership for Senior Executive Women for my own professional development.”