Women are underrepresented in decision making roles in the Catholic Church in Australia, however, within the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle we have wonderful women influencing others and leading a number of our agencies and Catholic schools.
To celebrate the contribution of all women in our region, Aurora interviewed six inspiring women who hold leadership roles in the Diocese on what motivates them and what guidance they could offer to others.
Trish Hales: School Principal of St Joseph’s Lochinvar
What is your role and what does it involve?
I am the school principal of St Joseph’s Lochinvar.
I’m responsible for 100 staff and 950 students. The focus for a principal is leading the faith dimension of the school, as well as the dimensions of teaching and learning. To focus on improvement, innovation and change, as well as overall management and community engagement.
Does faith influence the way you lead in the diocese? If so, how?
Faith is part and parcel of who I am and how I respond to people and situations. It comes into every part as a leader in a Catholic School. I was raised and developed as a person of faith.
I’m very comfortable taking time to listen to the Spirit. I’ll often say to staff if they put something to me or ask an opinion, ‘I just need to listen to the Spirit about that’, and then get back to them. Prayer is really important to me in helping push through the metaphorical ‘noise’ that goes on. I find prayer really grounds me, and helps me to remain calm. It gives me the time to focus on working out the right judgement in a situation.
I see my role as serving the people I lead, so that whole dimension of faith as service is really important to me.
Faith gives me courage in really difficult situations. When you might be providing support for students, families or staff in really difficult situations it’s that faith element that gives you courage to step forward and support them in the way they need to be supported or to even make decisions that might not be popular. We say it tritely sometimes, What would Jesus do? But it is very much at the centre of how we work.
Faith reminds me of the importance of forgiveness and that really guides interactions in schools. We talk to students about the idea of always being able to start again and the importance of not just forgiveness but actually expressing remorse. This is so they understand their actions and the impact of that on other people. But knowing that if they are really remorseful and prepared to start again, then that forgiveness with be there for them.
Faith is why we are here. Catholic schools wouldn’t be here if we weren’t focussing on the faith dimension of teaching and learning.
Why do you think it is important to have women in leadership roles?
Our world needs to hear both female and male voices. For too long it’s been a real struggle for women’s voices to be authentically heard. Women’s voices have been heard often in subservient roles. But not in leadership roles. I’ve worked with wonderful encouraging respectful male and female leaders. It’s not about preferencing one over another. It’s just a fact that in the workplace that women should have an equal voice and I think men and women are different in the way that they approach leadership. Women can and do bring a different dimension.
Woman are natural mentors and we really need that dimension of leadership.
What would you say to women wanting to be leaders?
Never forget the importance of humility. By all means be ambitious and be courageous but don’t fall into the trap of trying to be one of the boys.
Always appreciate that you can’t be successful on your own. You’ve got to be able to listen and observe and reflect and change. Change is not a sign of weakness. You can’t be successful as a male or female in leadership without the support of others.
Humility for me is the really important one. We have to be really grounded in humility, and If we think about our Catholic ethos, humility is one of the core values that we espouse.
The theme for International Women’s Day is ‘balance for better’. What does this mean to you?
There should be a balance of male and female around the table- that means whatever the table- church, schools, board rooms, courts, community centres, you name it.
It also means that whether you are male or female you have to have a balance in your work and personal life. The core aspect of having time to develop relationships both personal and professional is really critical.
Do you have a female role model? If so, can you please share with us what about them inspires you?
There are many women that I have admired in different ways. Some have been up close and personal and some have been from a distance.
My mum is one. Mum managed to run a house and look after a husband and 5 children, and helped care for 13 grandchildren. That care that she gave to those 13 grandchildren was so that I and her daughters in law could follow careers. Mum didn’t have a career, she had to give up her career when her mum died when she was a young woman and she had to look after her family. She wanted to ensure I had the very best education that I could have, so that I would have choices. That’s what I want for all of the students that I teach and for all of our young people. She’s been that role model for me in that sense.
Also some of the Sisters that taught me were really important role models for me. I really admired them. They were intelligent and confident, and I thought wow, they are amazing women and I have so much to learn from them. They inspired in students that we should work hard. That we should believe in ourselves. There was a mantra here, ‘Lochinvar girls can do anything’. That was really influential as I was growing up.
Helen Hemphill was a principal here but also taught me. She was always really calm. I worked with Helen at the Catholic Schools Office. I know she would have had frustrations but we never saw it. So that sense of calmness, I learnt from Helen.
Also, Sr Lauretta Baker. She taught me but I also worked with her. What I really admired about her was capacity to be fully informed about everything that was going on. She’d talk about ‘widening your net’, reading and making sure that you were in tune with all contemporary writers, so that when you were making decisions and interacting with people you really had a good grasp of being able to identify what’s core.
Two people that have influenced me in later life have to be Julia Gillard and Quentin Bryce.
Julia just because she had a really tough gig- and she was always under the spotlight. I’m sure there would have been constant critiquing behind closed doors. Probably some very rigorous discussions and she would have really had to push against the tide. There would have been many dominant males in her circles. She pushed against the tide, especially with the royal commission.
Quentin Bryce because she came from really humble beginnings, a small country town, just like me. But she was highly educated. She had a good family life, and great career as first female Governor General. But it’s her graciousness that I’ve always looked at. It’s so important as leaders to not be afraid to be female. The graciousness is part of that.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
Well that implies that I’ve done something on my own, when I haven’t accomplished anything without the support and love of others.
But if it came down to it, it would be raising two children with my husband. They are very grounded and have brought really great joy to our lives and continue to do so. As adults they care about others and want to make a difference, so I’m proud of that.
I’m proud of being able to pursue a satisfying career whilst having a family life. I’ve been really supported by my husband in all of that. Also, the people I’ve met and walked with along the way of my career have seen something in me that they thought was worth investing in or trusting.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thinking of conversations that I’ve had with young women here, particularly young teachers that take on leadership positions, I would say, “Be aspirational-but don’t forget to enjoy the journey. Soak up the special moments and find something to be grateful for every day. But also remember that generations of women before you have paved the way so that you can have those aspirations fulfilled.”
* According to a January 2018 study by Business Council of Australia, McKinsey & Company and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.