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Leadership lessons from our leading ladies

24 March 2022

"Don't think about making women fit the world — think about making the world fit women.” Gloria Steinem

In 2019-20, half of all workers in Australia were women yet not quite one-third held key management positions. But Community College Gippsland is bucking the national trend and leading by example with five of its six senior positions currently occupied by women and half of its Board.

While women make up 50.6% of the employees they comprise only:

32.5% of key management positions
28.1% of directors
18.3% of CEOs
14.6% of board chairs.

Source: Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency

We’ve talked with three of these trailblazers to find out what they bring to CCG. Read their stories to find out what skills they bring to their roles, what CCG does to support women in leadership and who inspires them.

Sue Geals, Chief Executive Officer

“See setbacks as learning opportunities.”

I joined CCG as a Vocational Trainer and through working in the organisation progressed to a manager and then CEO. While CCG promotes on merit, it strives for diversity, and considers that gender balance is best across all areas and levels. To succeed, the most important attributes a person can have are skill, talent, passion and commitment. However, the old saying is ‘you can't be what you can't see’, so we are providing a strong example of women who are successful leaders.

The support of my predecessor and the Board of the day afforded me the confidence to take on the role. Also, my father's can-do attitude and belief in me gave me the self-assurance that I was capable and could do the things I set out to achieve.

My advice to other women is to have self-belief and to seek assistance when you need it. You don’t have to know it all before you start, but be willing to keep learning. See setbacks simply as learning opportunities.

Marianne Shearer, Chair of the Board

“CCG positively changes lives.”

I joined the board of Community College Gippsland six years ago, and have been the Chair for the past three years.  What attracted me to CCG was the innovative education and hands-on learning approach that empowers people to grow, develops their confidence in skills and social inclusion. This particularly resonates with me due to the challenges of my multi-cultural background; I personally know the benefit of being given a second chance.

CCG is committed to diversity in gender, culture, lifestyle, and religion, and respecting and supporting all people. This commitment is highlighted when we recruit to any role (be it on the board, executive and other staff).  Diversity and cultural training is also provided to all levels of the organisation. 

Men and women in leadership roles bring many skills and attributes, however I frequently see women working collaboratively and in partnerships to drive opportunities and manage change. Women leaders often focus on elevating others, they are more likely to coach, mentor, and develop others. Seeing women in leadership roles encourages and motivates other women to try something new.

Some of the greatest challenges for women aspiring to move into senior roles actually come from within. We doubt our abilities, feel we don’t belong, and don’t advocate well for ourselves; and some workplace cultures magnify these insecurities when they discourage women who are seen to be more assertive. 

A source of inspiration for me comes from well before women in leadership was a concept. Catherine Booth was known as the ‘Mother of the Salvation Army’. She was a strong voice on social issues and focussed on the downtrodden. She advocated for giving people a second chance and positively changing lives. Just as CCG positively changes lives.

My advice to others is to find and be uplifted by women leaders who encourage and elevate others; and be willing to continue to pass this on.

Katy Grandin, Principal

“We must recognise that ‘success’ looks different for women and celebrate it.”

I was drawn to this role as I have a passion for connecting and supporting young people who sit outside the box. These students are often ‘lost’ in the system. I attended one of the first true community schools for part of my education and this has impacted my choices. I believe education needs to be flexible and adapted to fit the young person, rather than the young person being required to fit the educational institute. CCG is a space where students are truly valued and seen for their individuality.

Women are a significant proportion of the population and their voices need to be heard. Education remains a sector with more women than men and yet upper leadership roles continue to be dominated by men. While this has improved, more progress is needed. It is important for young women to see others leading the way, and even more important, is for them to see women leading in their own way, not becoming more ‘masculine’ to achieve success.

The ability to continue their journey into leadership, despite breaks in active employment due to maternity leave, continues to be a challenge for women. Organisations need to be more family-friendly and CCG certainly promotes a ‘family first’ policy. Family responsibilities can be perceived as weak when in fact they are simply different priorities. We must recognise that ‘success’ looks different for women and celebrate it. We must also proactively encourage more women into leadership.

Throughout my life many women have influenced me, some crossing my path briefly, some life-long connections, but all have shaped me. My strength, resilience, authenticity and power of connection were all developed by experiencing the nurturing and encouragement of other women.

To other women, my advice is to be authentic to yourself, find your voice, don’t let others define you. We need more woman leaders to be seen for themselves and not redefining themselves to fit a ‘male’ model of leadership.

For further information, please phone (03) 5622 6000 or email info@ccg.asn.au