The successful program helping aspiring female principals clinch the top job

The successful program helping aspiring female principals clinch the top job

According to OECD data, just 45% of those occupying a school principal position in Australia are women, and the statistics aren’t much better at the university level, with just 27% of university professors being female.

In Brisbane, a successful program is helping to close this gap.

A record breaking 20 female teachers have achieved their aspirations of leading Catholic schools over the past 12 months thanks to a successful initiative which aims to empower, inspire, and elevate aspiring female principals.

Brisbane Catholic Education’s (BCE) Women Breakthrough to Principalship program, launched in 2021, helps female teachers “develop a new mindset about how they practice leadership in a complex, changing educational environment”.

At the time the program was launched, just one in three primary principals and one in five secondary principals were women, despite BCE's overall workforce in schools being more than 80% female.

Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, BCE announced that 20 women are now leading some of South East Queensland’s most established schools, from as far north as Maryborough and Gayndah to Jimboomba and Beenleigh.

Since 2023, Women Breakthrough to Principalship alumni, Bree Brockenshire, Angela Moore, Sarah McDonald, Julie Rey, Allison Gilbert, Judith Jones, Aleisha Connellan, Britt Gurnett, Allison Elcoate, Kim Clarke, Martha Hill, Cathryn Anne Caldwell, Kellie Jacobsen, Louise Olley, Michelle White, Catherine Connors, Sally Smith, Tricia Howard, Kerry Maher, and Jayne Solomon have been appointed as principal.

A program of exponential change and empowerment

BCE’s Executive Director, Dr Sally Towns, says the new program, ‘Women in Leadership,’ was recently adapted to extend to women in leadership roles across the organisation, not just for those with the aim of leading a school. 

“This program has been reimagined and extends on the successful Women Breakthrough to Principalship Program,” Dr Towns said.

“The Women in Leadership program is designed to enable exponential change and empower our aspiring female leaders through interactive workshops, thought-provoking discussions, prayer, and reflection.”

BCE's Head of People and Culture Cathy Heffernan says 47% of program participants from 2021 and 2022 cohorts were successful in being appointed to roles including Head of College or Principal.

“BCE’s commitment to fostering increased representation of women in Principalship positions across our 146 schools is evidenced by this achievement,” Heffernan said.

“We have joined forces with Pragmatic Thinking to revitalise the program, which is built on contemporary research to further enhance its impact and reach.”

Heffernan said the program focuses on societal shifts, patterns, rhythms, beliefs and behaviours to enable “exponential change” for female leaders.

“Combining research with engaging and practical learning, participants will be equipped with the tools to break through barriers that often present themselves when taking steps to leadership.”

Trinity College Beenleigh Principal Allison Elcoate and Dr John Dwyer Excellent Leadership in Teaching and Learning Award recipient received her first substantiative Principalship in August 2023 after participating in the Women Breakthrough to Principalship program in 2022.

“The course had a positive impact on my leadership and the people I now have the privilege to lead,” she says.

“The program helps female educational leaders to create a network of professional women who support and celebrate each other’s successes.”