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Attending a #WomenEd Event on Jersey: Leading with Courage

By Elaine Walker  @ewalkerbyrne

As a former journalist, I always loved writing my weekly parenting column, apart from the time I had all three children off with chicken pox and the feature editor chasing me for my column!

So when the communications team asked colleagues to blog a bit more, I decided I would seize the opportunity to deliver on my promise, and use it to express myself, share learnings – and even let off the occasional bit of steam (within our Government policies and guidelines, of course!)

A huge inspiration for me is our, sadly now outgoing CEO, Suzanne Wylie's blogs. I love reading Suzanne's blog every Monday morning, as she gives great links to podcasts and an insight into her working week, family life, in an open, transparent and kind leadership style.

My St Patricks' Day blog for the Government of Jersey earlier this month was shared really positively, which has helped instill some confidence in me to get back into blogging.

To know that people are reading it and that it's stirring some discussion helps. It was interesting reading the comments, on social media, underneath my blog; asking why Wales, England and Scotland don't celebrate their patron saints like the Irish do for St Patrick's Day!

I've now been working in Government for almost five years, four of them in the Department for Children, Young People, Education and Skills as head of communications and nearly a year as interim associate director of engagement and participation.

Over these years I have followed #WomenEd on social media but always thought that you had to be an educator, teacher or involved in the profession to be a member. I felt that I would feel that imposter syndrome if I turned up.

But for International Women's Day @WomenEdJersey advertised an event called "Leading with Courage", recognising the strength demonstrated by female leaders over the past two years to celebrate the contribution of all women in education and discuss how we can embrace equity as leaders.

The 10% braver bit caught my eye and reminded me that I promised to #bemoreburgess by blogging, so I signed up to celebrate the #EmbraceEquity event.

Jo Terry Marchant, Principal of Highlands College, hosted the event, attended by about 25 women, in the Academy restaurant of the College. Jo opened with a powerful and energetic speech describing how she was a fierce feminist, from a working-class family, whose mother was active in the founding group behind what became the Jersey Women's Refuge and volunteered for citizens advice, in a James Street bookstore, before the Citizens Advice Bureau existed locally.

She said she was brought up to believe that you could be anything you wanted to be and fight to make a difference. This striking statement immediately resonated with me as, like Jo, I was brought up in a working-class area of Dublin. 

My parents always instilled into me:

"It's not where you're brought up – it's how you're brought up."

"A fairer more equitable society is a better society for all," said Jo.

Maggie Eldridge-Mortzek, senior advisor in Education, who won the Women in Education 10% Braver Award, presented some startling statistics about the gender pay gap. In a passionate speech Maggie presented figures from Freedom of Information questions published on the Government of Jersey website, which appeared to show that post-40-year-old females are the highest category leaving the teaching profession.

Catherine Precious, Headteacher of JCG Prep, shared her leadership journey with a powerful and emotional speech about her role as an Ofsted inspector in the wake of the death of Ruth Perry, head at Caversham Primary School in Reading, who took her own life while waiting for the publication of a report which had downgraded her school from outstanding to inadequate. Education unions, in the UK, have called for Ofsted inspections to be paused in the wake of the death of the head teacher.

Jennifer Carnegie, Chief Operating Officer at Amicus Limited, a strategic leadership consultancy and the keynote speaker, used a phrase I'd not heard before, which was "servant leadership". Jennifer spoke about the courage she found during her leadership journey and the challenges she has had to overcome, and focused on the topic of servant leadership.

Servant leadership is a leadership model developed by Robert K. Greenleaf. Servant leaders display characteristics such as strong listening skills, empathy, self-awareness, and the desire to create a healthy work environment. During her speech, Jennifer said this style of leadership, which is to serve others, "empowers people to act and nurtures them to be the best they can be".

Jennifer said employees want autonomy and more control of their own destiny, so they know where they stand and by adopting a servant leadership style helps employees to make better decisions, have a sense of belonging and purpose, valued and respected and feel less stressed.

Jennifer who was, until recently, the President of the Chamber of Commerce and is chair of Jersey Business, gave an honest insight into some of the challenges she has faced with bad behaviour in the workplace and how she managed these situations.

The main points I took from Jennifer's speech to be a successful leader are:

  • Seek mentors and allies
  • Have empathy
  • Develop new skills
  • Respect and value
  • Network strategically
  • Establish boundaries
  • Use your values to guide you

Coming from a working-class background and now working in senior leadership in Government is something I hold very close to my personal and organisational values, and is top of my priorities. In fact, I've started to embed some of them in my every-day approach to work and life already.

The main take-away from Jennifer's speech was when she said: 

"Take less fortunate people with you."

That's what #WomenEd is all about!

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Thursday, 08 June 2023

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