The Women in Housing series is a month-long project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Samantha Schofield.
I often get asked how I got to be so confident. Sometimes I’m not sure how to take this kind of comment. Is it because I’m young? Is it because I’m a woman? Is it a combination of both? This comment often gives me the impression I have no right to be confident. Doubt can be a killer. Especially when you are required to prove yourself on a daily basis.
I can recall countless times when I have been treated poorly, spoken down to and overlooked for seemingly no other reason than for being a young professional woman in positions of power. I’ve been called controlling, intimidating and threatening. I have the confidence to know who I am and what I stand for. From my experience this can be challenging for others.
However this isn’t a personal complaint or whinge. We know that almost half of the Australian workforce is comprised of women. However women only comprise an average of 15-20% of chair, directorial and CEO positions. This tells us my experiences are shared, and shared in all industries.
‘Women supporting women’ and ‘he for she’ are often popular topics of discussion. From my experience the power is in ‘people supporting people’ and role modelling this in our communities. While we know that women need good female role models, we also need to make sure men understand the way they behave towards women moulds who they are just as much. We also need to pay homage to the ones who get it right. My current boss threw me in head first from day one. He barely knew me and never doubted I could swim. He told me that I should aim to be the smartest person in the room at all times. This is the kind of boss every person should have and a wonderful role model for our diverse community of undergraduate and post-graduate residents.
It’s important for women to speak authentically and frankly about their success. There is no correct path for achieving success, especially for women. This needs to be visibly and candidly reflected in society, even if at times it can be challenging and uncomfortable to hear. Seeing women lead inspires self-confidence and aspirations for other women. It also works to change cultural and social norms of what an effective leader looks like. Role modelling and inspiring gender equity is intrinsic to our roles in student housing.
In student housing we are in an immediate sphere of influence for countless impressionable young adults. How I respond to incidents of blatant prejudice, amongst other daily challenges, is seen as an example of how to act by my residents. They may not always be privy to the detail, but they recognise professionalism, positivity and resilience. It is an example of a female role model in a position of power. I aim to teach by being.
For many of our residents, the transition from home to independent living is one of the biggest they will make. It is a challenging and often confronting time as they journey into the ‘real’ world and become adults. Our residents are in their formative adult years. They are questioning who they are, what they want to do and who they want to be. They make decisions, make mistakes and make connections with people who will influence their decision making. I cannot underestimate the role we play in this process.
Supporting each other in the workplace makes us better at our jobs. It makes us want to come to work in the morning, it makes us want to make a difference in our community. This has a powerful flow on effect for our residents. We’re giving our residents positive, supportive, engaged role models in a critical time of their lives.
The Vice Principal at my college when I was a resident had a profound effect on who I am today. She had a quiet confidence and inner strength that radiated through every essence of her being. She led by example. The pastoral care program flourished during her time at the college. However it was her character and values based leadership that had the most influence on the residents.
Sometimes our role models (of either gender) get it wrong or disappoint us, but this is a powerful reminder, especially to young women, that no one is perfect and that success can survive both mistakes and error. When it comes to inspiring young people about what they can achieve for themselves, honesty about ones triumphs and failures is invariably the best policy.
Our industry is the housing arm of higher education. As some of the most influential role models for developing student residents, student housing professionals are responsible for more than just providing a bed. Many of us are not academics or teachers; but we are still educators. Our residents watch us and see us as models of how to ‘adult’. They are influenced by our actions, our words, and our enthusiasm for what we do.
What kind of behaviours do you model for your residents? How do you engage with your colleagues? What kind of example are you setting in your community?
We have the power to help our residents feel inspired, cared for, smart, powerful, worthy of excellence and achievement. This starts with how we engage with each other.
Samantha Schofield works as a housing professional at the Australian National University (ANU) and is an AACUHO Committee Member. After studying at the University of Sydney, Samantha pursued her passion for residential life and student leadership working across private, commercial and university owned student housing facilities. Samantha is an advocate for mental health literacy and inclusive communities.
The Women in Housing series is sponsored by Adirondack Solutions.