From the Head of Beanland House

What does the future hold for Grammar girls of 2010?


Gender disparity in the workplace is a much debated topic within management, financial and economic circles.  It is a consistent theme in academic literature and the popular press. As a single-sex school, Brisbane Girls Grammar is committed to encouraging its students to become confident and competent young women, able to meet the challenges of successful professional careers and leadership roles. So, what do women experience in the workplace at present and what does the future hold for our Grammar girls of 2010?

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, in Australia there are six female university students to every five male students. Women comprise 45 per cent of all workers (Leigh, 2010). Kee (2005), however, observes a strong glass ceiling effect in the Australian private business sector. EOWA (2008) data reveals that women comprise 8.3 per cent of ASX 200 board directors, 2 per cent of chief executives and 10.7 per cent of executive management positions. Half of Australia’s top companies have no female directors and women make up 5.9 per cent of senior executive levels of ASX 200 companies. Representation of women in small and medium enterprises in Australia, however, is very high and women hold 37 per cent of senior executive positions in the public service (Wilson, 2010). Women are still under-represented in leadership positions and remain an under-utilised resource. Yet, there is hope in the changing Australian demographic. Members of Generation Y are now in large numbers in the junior ranks of companies. They have many opportunities and have high expectations of success. This bodes well for our present school population when they enter the world of work.

Gender disparity in management roles may be attributed to a number of factors. The literature does recognise some cases of gender discrimination. In addition, the EOWA (2008) observes that, in the early stages of their careers, few women gain experience in senior management, let alone CEO positions. Female executives hold only 6 to 10 per cent of senior management positions, a symptom of shortages in the executive pipeline, which limits their career advancement (Sloan, 2010). Niederle and Vesterlund (2007) argue that women shy away from competition whilst men embrace it. This is confirmed in a range of studies in both patriarchal and matrilineal societies (Leigh, 2010). Women often lack confidence; they will not apply for a job unless they have all the required skill sets for the job. Wilson (2004) calls it overcoming the ‘imposter syndrome’, the feeling that women are not good enough, do not have the necessary background or do not deserve the leadership opportunities. As Heath (in Field 2008) states, “Women tend not to be as active as men in promoting themselves and their achievements — and it doesn’t always pay to be humble.”  Care must be taken not to stereotype all women as lacking in confidence and commitment to the pursuit of leadership positions. Many young women of today do not lack ambition.

In our modern society, the current reality is that women take primary responsibility for the care of children which may hinder their career development. Broderick (in Fox & Hooper, 2010) outlines belief barriers such as what it means to be a good mother which is then incompatible with the ideal worker who is available 24/7. It is also perceived that a family will get in the way of a woman’s career (Wilson, 2004).  Evidence suggests that the careers of female executives take off in their 30s when women face a dilemma: career and / or motherhood. When investigating time scarcity, Strazdins (in Knight, 2010) argues that Australia’s long hours of work create a barrier. One in five Australians work over fifty hours a week, a figure which is even higher in professional roles; thus women need to juggle work and family and contend with what may be called the ‘hour-glass ceiling’. Hakim (in EOWA, 2008) categorises women as either career first (20 per cent), those who give priority to home and family (20 per cent) and adaptive women (60 per cent) who want the best of both worlds. Each individual has a different threshold of what constitutes a work-life balance. In response, some women choose to start their own businesses. Others choose family and part-time work but their lack of visibility may also become an impediment to their career aspirations.

There are conflicting views as to how to resolve the issue. “The corporate ‘blokocracy’ is under increasing pressure to do something serious about the number of women on boards in Australia” (Kohler, 2010). In response, leading businessmen have volunteered to mentor talented women in a bid to boost their representation on boards. The University of New South Wales has set up a mentoring programme aimed at helping female students achieve success in corporate Australia. Changes to the Fair Work Act regarding parental leave are important advances. The ASX Governance Council has outlined a policy of measurable gender objectives and additional reporting guidelines for companies. In this respect, Broderick (in Kohler, 2010) believes that Australian companies have five years to increase the number of women on boards before it becomes mandatory. She argues that it is a good time to be an aspiring female company director because 175 female directors are needed to reach a 20 per cent target and 477 to reach Norway’s compulsory target of 40 per cent. As a result, the future for our graduating class of 2010 is more optimistic. By the time they graduate, there will be more management opportunities available to them.

Our Grammar girls of 2010 come after the third wave of feminism. They assume the options are there for them, that professional careers are available, they can achieve what they want and they have a choice. They ask why not? They are well-educated and face the future with high hopes and high expectations of themselves and they work hard. There is an expectation that our alumni will progress to tertiary education. Many will achieve success and become leaders in their fields.

Brisbane Girls Grammar School aims to help young women develop what the research says are characteristics of the best directors.  Seligman (in Sax, 2005) believes that girls need plenty of experience at taking risks, albeit the right kind of risks, and succeeding. This occurs most successfully in a single-sex school. This educational environment allows students to develop confidence, independence and self-esteem through what Deak (2002) calls the synergy of competence, confidence and connectedness. She argues that the more a girl feels she is in a safe place to be herself, the more willing she is to step away from her protective façade and face life confidently. We aim to create environments that layer opportunities for girls to engage in doing for themselves and we support and encourage them. One example is the community service programme where students develop the capacity to look beyond self. The school’s high educational standards, academic programmes and expected work ethic help develop intellectual capacity and an interest in the world. We encourage a growth mindset, a characteristic of great leaders according to Dweck (2006), whereby students develop their capacities by being able to debate and question and prod. Students are provided with the opportunities to become school leaders and develop managerial skills. Parents are vital also. It must be acknowledged that supportive and empathetic parents are an asset to young leaders (McWilliam, 2008). One of the most important roles a parent must play is that of ‘confident coach’ (Kindlon, 2006). If young women sense that we think they can succeed, it is far more likely that they will.

Our Grammar girls are entering a world in which there is accelerating movement towards parity of opportunity for women. This means that the women of tomorrow will have greater choices than previous generations. They may choose to shatter the glass ceiling with their talent, ambition and self-confidence or they may choose to explore work-life balance in ways not yet imagined. In developing their own unique approach to the world of work, they are encouraged to remember the words of Janis Joplin, “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.

Mrs L Chakravorty

Head of Beanland House and Head of Economics

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