Leaders inspire change and embrace equity on International Women’s Day

This International Women’s Day, Sunshine Coast Grammar School joined scores of organisations worldwide collectively seeking to #EmbraceEquity.

One of the many avenues to embrace equity is to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness about discrimination, and take action to drive gender parity.

Gender equity is not solely limited to women. Allies are incredibly important and we are fortunate to have countless examples of incredible female achievements, inspiring leaders, and males championing gender equity at Sunshine Coast Grammar School.

We were privileged to hear from our Director of Sport, Mr Justin Abrahams as well as past student and Forensic Psychologist, Georgia Ray at our annual International Women’s Day Breakfast as we discussed the importance of having strong female role models that champion high expectations and to reflect on what is right, not what is easy.

As a highly qualified Psychologist with 15 years of experience in both forensic/ criminal and clinical psychology, Georgia spoke about her experience in the industry and the challenges she has faced in her career.

‘Every step makes a huge difference. I am solutions focused and strive to find the best way to move forward. Having direct but kind conversations is our best way to progress as a society,’ said Georgia.

Justin has led high-level sport and education in both Australia and the United Kingdom and has extensive experience in sports development. He has worked across both primary and secondary schools and has held multiple roles in pastoral, boarding, curriculum, and high-performance sports.

‘As a community, we have a responsibility to raise our expectations of girls and continue to have those conversations,’ said Justin.

We sat down with Georgia and Justin to discuss International Women’s Day and what embracing equity means to them.

In conversation with Georgia Ray

  • Can you share a time when you may have experienced bias and how you navigated that?

Gender bias is something I experience every day because as humans we are socialised to make quick, and often inaccurate, judgments about others. I do not take it personally but instead, see the bias as a symptom of early conditioning. If the gender bias is particularly problematic I will raise it and address it with the person I am interacting with rather than letting it go. It is important to be the change we want to see in the world.

  • How do you celebrate/ champion the young girls and women in your life?

I celebrate and encourage all females in my life in many different ways. I have many female friends who are starting businesses whilst juggling motherhood, which is never easy but deserves support and encouragement throughout that journey. I also have a 6-year-old daughter who looks to me for guidance as her closest role model. It is important that she sees that women can wear many different hats and we can be as multidimensional as we wish to be. For example, my daughter sees me as a Mum, Psychologist, netball and tennis player, runner, cook, wife and friend. The reason this is important to me is because I never want her to feel limited as a female in this world.

  • What changes do you think we still need before we reach equality? Do you think we ever will, and why/ why not?

The concept of equality is highly subjective and therefore problematic in my opinion. For example, if we base ‘equality’ on having equal pay then of course women fall short. However, if we understand that women and men are not equal and we look to maximise our potential as our own unique beings then it allows for more solutions to be achieved. Getting caught up in ‘equality’ can create more conflict and is not necessarily solution-focussed. Encouraging young women to see their strength, without comparing to men, is far more important and valuable for achieving one’s goals.

  • How do you incorporate and promote equality in your life and work?

My husband and I ensure that our children see both of us share the workload at home and at work. My son and daughter both see me at my practice working as well as at home doing the chores. This is extremely important to both of us, in order to break down stereotypes and gender bias from a young age.

  • Is there someone that inspires you (male or female) and encourages you to discuss bias?

My family has a long line of very strong females. We have always championed each other’s achievements and continue to encourage one another to push the boundaries of expectations. There has never been a ‘ceiling effect’ within the family I was raised in which I think has been the greatest influence and inspiration for me.

In conversation with Justin Abrahams

  • As a husband and father of two daughters, how do you celebrate the young girls and women in your life? Why is this important to you?

Firstly, I love being the father of two young girls. As a father, I champion the importance of trying new things and not to fear failure. Success is defined in many ways and with that in mind, challenging oneself and seeking difficult scenarios to grow requires courage. We separate the difference between winning and success and the difference between the physical, emotional and moral courage required. Belief is vital and if they don’t believe, success will not happen. We promote always giving your best, setting a good example to others and celebrating small victories. The confidence of my girls to try new things does go up and down and they certainly do not attempt everything in front of them, but they are growing into independent and strong young women and my wife and I are proud of them.

  • As you have been involved in sport over the years where some bias has existed, what changes have you seen?

I have seen greater opportunities for participation, competition, pathways, leadership, learning and travel develop in recent years. Girls deserve the same opportunity as boys, not just to participate in certain sports but to have equal access to the best coaches, facilities, equipment, medical support and travel opportunities. I love that a large number of professional clubs in Australia promote and market their franchise with women’s teams alongside their men’s. They are one. The number of reasons and excuses why women aren’t offered the same opportunities as men is getting smaller by the day and whilst there is still much to do in this space, I am driven to provide equal opportunities to the girls and women in our community.

  • What changes do you think we still need before we reach equality?

I firmly believe that in wider society, equality will be reached in certain aspects of sport such as competition, facilities, travel and medical support. Where I feel it will be difficult to achieve equality is in salaries. Tennis is one of the very few sports offering the same salary as men.

Women train and compete just as hard as men and whilst there is a sound argument that women are just as deserving as men when it comes to salaries, very few women’s sports draw the same crowds and as a consequence, the investment from sponsors is lower. We will all watch with interest whether FIFA will offer the same prize money as men at the women’s world cup in 2027. In 2023, the women will play for around $100M in total prize money whereas the men’s world cup in 2022 saw a total of $440M. In 2019, the prize purse for women was $38M so the increase is definitely a step in the right direction and reflective of the changes in women’s sport.

It is astonishing how far the quality of women’s football, rugby and AFL has come in the past five years. The product in 10 years across all sports will be even better and hopefully, that will mean crowds will be up and a more appealing investment for sponsors.

  • How do you incorporate and promote equality in your life and work?

I encourage my daughters to get outside and play and try everything they can. They have to believe in themselves and challenge stereotypes because after all, stereotypes are merely representative of the past. Stereotypes will remain in society until girls break the mould and my girls are part of that stance.

It is hard not to celebrate when daughters have outperformed boys and really that is a poor message in itself. I’ve stopped myself many times from making comments such as these. That balance between showing what girls are capable of, that girls rule the world and not making it about beating boys is tough to navigate. My wife and I focus on personal achievement, giving one’s best, and setting a good example to boys and girls.

My expectation is as high for girls as it is for boys and that is non-negotiable. If the standards and expectations are lower then that is what they will aim for.

There needs to be a seismic shift in this space and I will continue to champion those messages and encourage others to follow. At work, I believe schools need strong female role models who lead by example and demonstrate energy and enthusiasm. We also need them to champion consistency or effort and character in all facets of life and promote sport or an active, healthy lifestyle. Female staff who encourage participation and competition, and who promote being fit for life are a priority for me. I am conscious of the language I use in conversations around school and the impact it has and also correcting those who make inappropriate comments.

  • Is there someone that inspires you (male or female) that encourages you to discuss bias and have those conversations?

One particular colleague in the UK had an enormous impact on me. She led by example and had the same expectations of female and male students and was so passionate in this space. There is no reason why society should expect any less from girls. The physical performance will be different at times but we are doing girls an injustice if we don’t expect the same. Some of my biggest challenges in teaching and coaching has been when girls do not believe that girls are capable of more. Sometimes that has manifested itself in a lack of confidence.  We have to create opportunities for success, in whatever form that may take. My wife and I love watching our daughters grow and sport creates so many opportunities for this.