Challenging the status quo in any context requires Courage – courage to face the challenge and then courage to act.
The status quo in my story was a lack of women in leadership positions in Edmund Rice schools.
That status quo existed, and remained unchallenged by women, largely because you can’t become what you can’t see – and there were very few, if any, women in leadership positions back in the 80s and early 90s. To challenge this status quo was going to require not only Women of Courage (and I wasn’t the only one) but also Men of Courage.
But firstly, I had to be confident enough in my qualifications, skills and abilities to face the challenge by putting my hand up for opportunities and knocking on the door. It took courage – the door looked huge and thick – but I chose to challenge, what seemed at the time, to be a status quo that was not going to change easily. However, I wasn’t going to be able to open that door on my own. It was going to take Men of Courage to also challenge the status quo
The Christian Brother Principal at St Edmund’s College, opened the door to a young, female Senior Chemistry teacher – unheard of in a boy’s school in the 80s! My second principal, another Christian Brother, opened the door to that same young, female teacher who then wanted to become the Head of Science – another stereotype was knocked down. A few years later I had further qualifications and a lot more experience and believed that I could now apply for a position on a College Leadership Team in an Edmund Rice school. A third Principal courageously provided me with that opportunity to be a member of the College Leadership Team at St Laurence’s College.
The second CLT position I moved to was at St James College, when Mr David Gardiner was leaving after being Deputy there for over 20 years. Even I didn’t know if I had the courage to follow in his big footsteps, but I faced that challenge and was awarded the position of Deputy Principal.
All of these school principals had the influence to instigate change and they had the courage to challenge long-held stereotypes about the role of women in boys’ education. With a dream of gender equal leadership, Women and Men of Courage, working together, challenged the status quo to create more inclusive and effective leadership structure in Edmund Rice Schools. The dream hasn’t been fully realised yet, but that’s not only in education, it’s in all sectors of society and politics.
To the young men of ATC, as you enter the workforce and eventually positions of influence, I ask you to face the challenge of stereotypes and gender inequity, choose to instigate change and work alongside these Women of Courage as a true Man of Courage.
Michelle Kath Head of Pathways