Principal of Ruyton Girls’ School in Melbourne, Ms Linda Douglas, discusses gender equity and how the school’s students are supported in overcoming the gender stereotypes that attempt to define them.
In relation to gender equity on an international scale, in 2017 the World Economic Forum ranked Australia in the following areas: Economic Participation and Opportunity (42), Political Empowerment (48), Health and Survival (104), and Educational Attainment (1). Overall, this equates to a gender equity global index rank of (35) for Australia. It is not unexpected that New Zealand (9) and Canada (16) ranked higher than Australia, but Cuba (25) and Nicaragua (6) might surprise you.
There are many complex reasons why women do not have equal participation and reward in our society, however these reasons are linked to social and cultural influences associated with gender.
One commonly cited reason for women lagging behind men in regard to wage gap and opportunities for engagement is that women are sensitive to work-family conflicts and more inclined to make career sacrifices. Last week, for the first time in Australia, 130 business leaders converged on the Sydney Opera House to talk about how men manage fatherhood and work, and how employers can help support more men to take extended parental leave and share the care.
It remains the case that in the majority of Australian households, mothers take extended leave upon the arrival of a child, while fathers or partners adopt a ‘secondary’ caring role and take very short breaks from work. This perpetuates stereotypical gender norms where women are expected to do the caring and men are expected to do the earning, rather than the reality that women now play a significant role in the earning too. Shared parental leave policies help to break this cycle, foster a more equal division of unpaid care and paid work and improve family work-life balance. Importantly, it enables fathers to bond with their children while they are young, which can result in greater satisfaction in their relationships with their children.
Another commonly cited reason is that pathways to promotion and pay rises often involve competition, and it may be that women do not like to compete. Research conducted by Professor Alison Booth at Australian National University (ANU) and Dr Patrick Nolen from Essex University (February 2009) has suggested that teenage girls who attend girls’ schools are more competitive than girls who attend co-educational schools. The Choosing to Compete: How Different are Girls and Boys study compared the behaviour of 260 English boys and girls when asked to enter a competition that included a small financial reward, as well as their attitudes to risky economic decision-making. The study found that girls from single-sex schools and boys from both single-sex schools and co-educational schools were equally likely to behave competitively in the experiment. Girls from co-educational schools were much less likely to participate in the competition, but the likelihood of the girls participating increased after they were placed in single-sex groups. The research also suggested that student family background was not a significant factor.
As a girls’ school, our focus is on preparing girls for a lifetime of learning, leadership and engagement in our global community; enabling girls to lead lives of purpose with courage and character. We purposefully support girls to understand their identity and shape their self-concept, self-efficacy, and self-confidence; to develop the knowledge and skills required to reject and overcome gender stereotypes that attempt to define them.
Time in the classroom is spent learning. Girls’ schools are a place where girls take centre stage. And we think that is where they belong. Simply put, girls’ schools teach girls that there is enormous potential and power in being a girl. By subtracting boys an all girls’ education adds opportunities. As a girls’ school, a girl occupies every role; every part in the play and every position on every team. Not only does she have a wealth of avenues for self-exploration and development, she also has a wealth of peer role models.