True parity before the 22nd century?

Early last month we celebrated International Women’s Day. In my address to the girls I asked them if they knew that fewer women run top Australian companies than men whose names are John – or Peter or David. There are only nine women CEOs and ten women chairing boards in ASX 200 companies. I also pointed out that at the rate things are progressing, we won’t reach true parity with men until the 22nd century!

I also wanted the girls to keep in their thoughts that there are women in the world whose problems are more about daily survival than positions of leadership.

  • Half a billion women in the world today live in unacceptable conditions of poverty
  • 1 in 3 women across the globe experience violence
  • It is estimated that the number of child brides in the world is 650 million
  • 24% of women still earn less than men for the same work, even when they have the same abilities and experience.

The theme for IWD this year is #BalanceisBetter or #MorePowerfulTogether. There is much to be proud of, but also much to be done. It is important, particularly at the moment, that we pull together as there is no doubt that we are more powerful together – all of us – men and women, privileged and less privileged.

Amongst a number of other activities, the Senior School gathered for our annual International Women’s Day (IWD) Assembly. Our guest speaker, Liz Volpe, is one of Australia’s most prominent female entrepreneurs. She is described as ‘an unstoppable force not only in business but also in the world change arena’.

As a serial entrepreneur and social enterprise founder, Liz relayed to the girls her story from ‘ordinary British schoolgirl’ to the woman she is now. She is co-founder of the League of Extraordinary Women and it was through the School’s TC Envision partnership  with the League that we were able to secure her to speak with us. It was great opportunity for the girls to be able to listen to her (‘I wanted to start a business and I did not know how, so I Googled it and then networked with as many start-up business people as I could to learn and exchange ideas’).

Liz spoke of dreams, of failure, of not knowing (but finding out) and giving back as a source of great joy. One notion I have not heard mentioned so strongly before in the context of these kinds of stories, was that she told the girls to learn to become problem solvers. She urged them not to be the person in the room complaining and finding fault, but to be that person who actively looks to finding solutions. I think that is a good message for young people and it aligns to our Motto, ‘Bravely, Faithfully, Happily’

Timed to align with IWD, on Saturday 9 March the School hosted the unveiling of the Inspirational Women’s Wall which is a wall where the photographic portraits of the Strathcona Medallists are displayed.  The event was incredibly well attended, especially since it was a long weekend.

Former Principals, Mrs Ruth Bunyan AM and Mr Ken Lyall OAM were present along with present and former Chairs, Mrs Jocelyn Furlan and Mrs Laurinda Gardner. Former Chaplain, the beloved Mrs Judy McMaster, presided and she shared the story of how Strathcona came about its first Strathcona Medal in 2004. 

Mrs McMaster outlined the accomplishments of each extraordinary women and it was humbling to listen to the huge contribution they have made in service and in their own professional achievement across such a wide range of areas.

The definition of ‘inspire’ is to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence to do things. The women whose faces look out from the walkway to the Years 10 and 11 area are inspirational. I feel very strongly about the importance of providing our students with all kinds of different role models. The girls who predominantly use this walkway are 16 – 17 year olds. They are starting to reach into themselves, to work out who they are, and try to imagine what lives they will have once the walk outside our Canterbury School gates. They will mostly glance at this Wall as they walk past, often preoccupied with, perhaps, how much study they have done or not done; what they are going to wear to the formal; what ATAR they might get; if they will get into a particular team or play; whether the Canteen has run out of their favourite food; the degree to which they are annoyed with their mother/father/friends/teachers that day and so on.

Sometimes they will stop in front of a photograph – individually or in groups – and have a thought and discuss. But mostly the images and their own imaginings of the lives of the women in the walkway will unconsciously deepen and expand the possibilities the girls will consider for themselves and their lives. Additionally, we will bring the portraits to life, by telling the story of each person and sometimes inviting the Medallists in to speak about their journey from schoolgirl to their place on the Strathcona Inspirational Women’s Wall.

Mrs Marise McConaghy, Principal
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