Beyond School: Pymble Ladies’ College setting girls up for career success

Agenda setter … Pymble Ladies’ College principal Dr Kate Hadwen.

It’s well known that women climb the corporate ladder much more slowly than men and rarely reach the same heights. Motherhood is often blamed for impeding women’s career progression but it seems that the difficulty lies elsewhere.

A 2017 McKinsey report found that women are underrepresented in the corporate world from the outset with fewer female entry-level hires and greater barriers to promotion than men.

“The biggest gender gap is at the first step up to manager: entry-level women are 18 per cent less likely to be promoted than their male peers,” the Women in the Workplace 2017 report says.

“This gender disparity has a dramatic effect on the pipeline as a whole. If entry-level women were promoted at the same rate as their male peers, the number of women at the senior vice president and C-suite levels would more than double.”

Redressing this imbalance is one of the main aims of newly appointed Pymble Ladies’ College principal Dr Kate Hadwen. 

“I’d like to think we can start to better understand that and start to really work on it for our girls so that when they do get into their mid-20s and they’re at their first point of promotion, actually we can start to shift that needle a bit,” Dr Hadwen says.

“I’m really passionate about girls’ education. For me, helping young women, particularly in the workforce will probably be the tenor of my life’s work now.”

Dr Hadwen comes to Pymble Ladies’ College after four years as principal at PLC Perth. She’s worked in a variety of teaching roles at both the primary and secondary levels and taught in every state bar South Australia. 

She sits on several national boards, remains an adjunct research fellow at both the University of Western Australia and Edith Cowan University and was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research in 2011.

Improving young women’s career prospects is an eminently realisable ambition, Dr Hadwen says, and as principal of Pymble Ladies’ College she is well placed to see it through.

Research shows that single sex schooling is immensely beneficial for girls, especially in terms of academic results and engagement with STEM subjects, she says.

But it also impacts character development, Dr Hadwen says, citing a recent Australian study by Dr Terry Fitzsimmons that analysed “self-efficacy” — a psychometric term denoting self-confidence and resilience — in boys and girls attending single-sex schools.

“All the studies previous to that had said when girls finish school, their self-efficacy is lower than boys on average. His work found that actually, no, at single sex girls’ schools and single sex boys’ schools, when they finish Year 12, it’s the same.” 

She says that these results are probably because girls’ schools tend to explicitly teach leadership skills and provide an environment that is all “about developing strong women, developing women who have resilience, women who are future leaders, who understand what that looks like — to feel comfortable to be a young woman and to step forward confidently.”

Actively supporting girls’ wellbeing is an integral part of that, Dr Hadwen says. At PLC Perth she developed a world-leading health and wellbeing curriculum and dedicated wellbeing centre because “evidence shows that where schools have implemented a wellbeing program, there’s an 11 per cent increase in academic outcome,” Dr Hadwen says.

Girls are experiencing anxiety at “record highs” and technology, particularly social media, is exacerbating the trend while contributing to an epidemic of sleep deprivation amongst adolescents, she says. Parents often struggle to rein in their teenagers’ mobile phone dependency and need help, which is what led her to introduce a “no technology after bedtime” policy at PLC Perth.

The “wildly successful” initiative saw a whole of school pledge to turn off phones and other devices at bedtime. As a result, Dr Hadwen says that the girls got more sleep and no longer felt compelled to maintain a 24/7 social media presence. 

“When I announced it to the girls and the community, I was inundated; my in-box overflowed with messages from parents saying thank you,” she says.

Interestingly, reducing technology use also serves to increase self-efficacy in children. As Dr Fitzsimmons concluded in his report: “Overall, computer gaming and social media usage were identified as the greatest detractors from the development of self-confidence.”

There are many strands to supporting girls to succeed not just academically but for their whole life. As principal at Pymble Ladies’ College, Dr Hadwen says she is looking forward to “pushing that agenda” even further.

With approximately 2250 students, Pymble Ladies’ College is the largest girls’ school in Australia and, at 103, one of the oldest. It is also, thanks to its “long-standing history of excellence” very influential, Dr Hadwen says.

“What we do at Pymble sets the pathway for what other girls’ schools do. I think that’s a really unique position to be in as a leader of a girls’ school — to have that exciting opportunity but also that responsibility about where education for girls might go in the future,” she says. 


Women in the Workplace 2017 — Alexis Krivkovich, Kelsey Robinson, Irina Starikova, Rachel Valentino, and Lareina Yee, McKinsey and LeanIn.Org, October 2017

Hands up for Gender Equality: A Major Study into Confidence and Career Intentions of Adolescent Boys and Girls — Dr Terry Fitzsimmons, Miriam Yates and Victor Callan, AIBE Centre for Gender Equality in the Workplace, University of Queensland, 2018

Collecting Technology at Bedtime — Dr Kate Hadwen, LinkedIn.Com, October 31, 2017

Full-STEAM ahead: The Scots College team wins NSW robotics competition

A team of budding engineers at The Scots College have claimed the state’s junior robot soccer crown for 2016.

Playing with machines that they built and programmed themselves, the boys led Scots to a 10-point victory in the NSW RoboCup Junior Championship soccer division held last month at the University of NSW.

Founded in 1997, RoboCup, short for Robot Soccer World Cup, is an international competition in which teams of university students field handmade robots in a soccer tournament. Australia has great form in this competition with the UNSW team winning the Standard Platform League division last year. Continue reading “Full-STEAM ahead: The Scots College team wins NSW robotics competition”

How much technology in education is too much?

A recent ABC radio Future Tense program asked if we are “too quick to embrace technology in education”.

Guest speaker Neil Selwyn, a digital researcher and professor of education at Monash University, questioned the value of some current trends in education such as the use of digital technology to deliver personalised, self-directed learning, commenting that deep learning takes the form of a dialogue between teacher and student and that students can’t be expected to know what it is that they don’t know.

Selwyn also expressed concern about equity of access, remarking that the greatest participation and completion rates for massive open online courses (MOOCs) are seen amongst university-educated, high-income young men.

The failure of technology in education to live up to Utopian hopes for it should give us pause, Selwyn argued. While technology is an undoubted boon to the classroom overall, it is not a pedagogical panacea, he said quoting Bill Gates’ remark from last year that fixing the US education system is harder than eradicating malaria.

Selwyn concluded with a call for greater skepticism saying: “Given the importance of education there is a need for proper grown-up debate about complexities and contradictions of technology’s role. Digital technology needs to be seen as the starting point for conversations about the future of education—not as the definitive answer.”

Tom Butler, professor of Business Information Systems, at Ireland’s University College Cork, goes much further than just questioning the role of technology in education; he has called for an outright ban on computers in primary and middle-school classrooms.

In his paper, ICT and Education: Fundamental problems and practical recommendations, Butler says: “Research indicates that traditional methods of learning through reading and writing on paper-based media provide superior learning outcomes for students at all levels.”

Butler attributes this result to a phenomenon known as “shallow reading”, leading to poorer comprehension and retention of material read on-screen. Research shows that on-screen reading is better suited to short texts like news reports and that “traditional linear presentation”, ie books, is a better medium for ingesting longer, written texts.

However, Butler fully supports the use of controlled digital access in senior high school education and notes the importance of studying Information and Computer Technology (ICT) in a formal way at the secondary school level.

His paper concludes on an optimistic note, finding that “digital tools offer a great opportunity for education,” but, like Selwyn, he asserts the need for greater critical appraisal of these tools. “The physical and psychological impact of ICT have to be factored in when considering ICT’s role in and for education,” Butler says.

What do you think? What is your experience of technology in the classroom?

Read more: 

Are we being too quick to embrace technology in education? – Neil Selwyn, Future Tense, ABC Radio National, March 1, 2016

Zuckerberg is ploughing billions into “personalised learning” – Why? Natalia Kucirkova and Elizabeth FitzGerald, The Conversation, December 10, 2015

Bill Gates: Eradicating malaria easier than fixing US education system, Jeri Clausing, Associated Press, June 30, 2014

Books are better than screens, education conference told – Fiona Gartland, the Irish Times, October 3, 2015

ICT and Education: Fundamental problems and practical applications, Professor Tom Butler, University Cork College, Ireland, September 2015