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