Confidence the Key to Unlocking Female Leadership

16th May 2022

Mrs Prue Beckwith is Girton’s Head of Science and having recently completed the Women’s Advanced Leadership Program run by the National Excellence in School Leadership Institute (NESLI), she feels more confident in leading her colleagues in the Science department and believes that the skills she gained on the course are quietly benefiting students.
Mrs Prue Beckwith, Head of Science
The online course entailed working with a cohort of approximately twenty current and aspiring school leaders from all over Australia and from all sectors of the education industry, which in Prue’s cohort included a public primary school in regional NSW, a school Principal from Queensland and a Principal from a Catholic Secondary School in NSW.
Below, Prue talks about the importance of courses targeted explicitly at female leaders, what she learned and how her management style has changed.

“I got so much out of the Women’s Advanced Leadership Program, which was primarily focussed on different leadership styles and an examination of how leadership has changed over time. We also spent a lot of time examining our own leadership style and refining it.

“We had access to high-quality materials and our lecturers nurtured a learner-centric approach which allowed our group to co-construct and share our learning journey. I loved this approach, and it was an excellent reminder as a teacher of what works in the classroom with young people.

“What I learned is that there is no one leadership style that is necessarily the most effective in the education sector. As schools become more complex and multifaceted, the need for a range of leaders and effective leadership is growing.

“Modern educational leadership has become much less dictatorial and more consultative, which is very much my own style. I like to see myself simply as a spokesperson for a group of people and a team member.”

Prue said one of the most valuable things she learned during the course echoed her father’s sentiment from more than 25 years ago.

“My Dad built a successful real estate business up in Melbourne from scratch 25 years ago. I remember him telling me that once the company was established, his focus was on working on the business, not for the business.

“This concept is clear to me now since completing the leadership course. We learned about ‘getting on the balcony’. Essentially this means trying not to get tied down in day-to-day tasks. Instead of always being reactionary, leaders need to take the time to look at things from above.

“This balcony view allows leaders to better understand whether the whole group is moving towards a common goal and helps prevent losing sight of what the goal actually is.

“I think I am much better now at achieving the balcony view since completing the course,” Prue said.

Prue also found the course content related to the Coaching Model valuable for her role as Head of Science. She said that this one-on-one approach relies on leaders asking the right questions.

“Generally, people know the answers that they seek themselves. When leaders ask the right questions, people come to their own realisations and, importantly, to their own solutions.

“I can tell someone how to do something, but this robs them of the opportunity to work it out for themselves. What eventuates is a lack of ownership of the task at hand. You could imagine if this frequently happened with a number of people within a team, you could end up with a disempowered team that lacks capacity.

“The same principle can be applied in the classroom with our students. Good teaching is all about getting young people to arrive at solutions themselves. Teachers are really just the guide. Our aim is not simply to fill an empty vessel with information,” Prue said.

When asked why all-female leadership courses were necessary, Prue related an experience from her university days.

“I remember sitting in a lecture and learning that when a female applies for a job if they believe they cannot achieve 80% of the tasks outlined in the key selection criteria, they won’t apply for the job. On the other hand, the average male only feels the need to be able to satisfy about half of the key selection criteria before deciding to apply for the same job.

“That is a lot of jobs that females are not applying for.

“Many females in leadership positions have a level of professional imposter syndrome. They lack confidence in their own skills and ability. All-female leadership courses aim to provide an environment where women can feel less judged and where they can get inspiration from other people who feel and experience the same things they do.

“It’s a confidence boost to undertake an all-female leadership course. It reminds us, women, what we are capable of.”

Prue’s leadership is also supported by an Executive Leadership Coach from Blank White Page, Mr Dirk Anthony, who provides mentoring and coaching to Girton middle management.

“I talk with Dirk via Zoom (he is based in the UK) at least once a month.

“He has helped me so much. When I first commenced as a Head of Department, I was quite defensive and when I was questioned, I felt I was being undermined.

“Dirk has taught me that, when people question me, it is quite possibly a result of having not effectively communicated with someone in the first instance.

“Realisations like this have totally changed my leadership approach, especially related to questions, which come at me regularly and from all quarters.

“The combination of the women’s leadership course and Dirk’s coaching has boosted my professional confidence and capacity.

“I would strongly encourage any aspiring females at Girton to undertake the Women’s Advanced Leadership Program,” Prue said.