Rebecca Slade

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women of all roles, cultures and abilities in our lives. Be it our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts or daughters, or our very own talented, female educators. International Women’s Day’s significance within the education and care sector is two-fold. Not only is the workforce female-dominated, but knowledge passed onto children attending early education services will develop and mould future generations’ thoughts and approach to equality and societal issues. Embedding equity within early education organisations’ systems and culture combined with sustained support and mentoring for women in the workforce is critical for increasing professional recognition throughout the broader community.

With the focus for International Women’s Day 2021 on #Choosetochallenge. The women within Big Fat Smile’s Executive Leadership Team discuss their thoughts on leadership, the sector and share their hopes for women engaged in and entering the sector. These women hold five of the six top executive positions within Big Fat Smile, and along with CFO Aidan Slevin, embody the values of Safety, Leadership, Integrity, Inclusion, Collaboration, and Child-Centric whilst guiding the organisation’s strategic direction and vision to create a buoyant culture for everyone to be successful.

CEO Jenni Hutchins (pictured centre) radiates a passion for enabling children to flourish and thrive through early education and care, believing it is a privilege to work in a sector that supports and celebrates diversity, builds the younger generation’s leadership capacity, creates sustainable futures and enables success in families. Jenni champions an innovative, connected and motivating organisational culture where everyone is nurtured, supported and mentored. Jenni leads by example in strongly advocating for continued, sustained support, funding and recognition for the sector. She hopes current, and new female entrants ‘feel confident, comfortable, successful and inspired in any role they choose across the diversity of choice that we have’.

Justine Uluibau (pictured second from left), General Manager, Operations, believes we can learn a lot from children. Justine has built a career in the sector over twenty years due to the sense of community and satisfaction she has gained from seeing tangible outcomes and results for vulnerable children. Justine continues to find her role rewarding as it allows her to have a direct contribution to guide and implement high-quality practices. Justine’s leadership style shines through in her hope that women within and entering the sector ‘feel confident and brave to be able to do anything they set their minds to and join Big Fat Smile with the knowledge that they will be supported to achieve this’.

For Dr Michele Peden – Pedagogical Thinker in Residence (pictured far left), it is the chance to work in partnership with families and children to provide interest-based, high-quality early education that drew her to this sector. Dr Peden’s work centres on developing Big Fat Smile’s unique evidence-based educational framework. Michele’s hope for educators entering the sector is that they are ‘professionally mentored and supported to promote a sense of community that enables all children and families to feel safe and secure as they access quality education.’

Nicole Dixon, Executive Manager People and Culture (pictured second from right), was drawn to enter the early education and care sector through the heightened appeal of working for a for-purpose organisation. Nicole’s strength is her one-eyed focus on utilising her professional strengths to positively impact children’s lives through building the foundations of a positive, strong culture. Nicole highlights the sectors response and ability to pull together through COVID-19 as a key proud moment and hopes new entrants and current women in the sector ‘see what they do as a career that can have as many opportunities as they want. That it is a career that can allow them to ‘fill their cup’ and create positive impacts for children at such a pivotal time in their life whilst simultaneously building a sustainable career’.

For Amanda Archer, Head of Compliance and Client Experience (pictured far right), quality early education is transformative in breaking cycles of poverty, generational trauma and changing life trajectories. Amanda hopes that the sector gains recognition through community education of the benefits of early education and that all educators across the sector find a place to work that supports, mentors and guides them through the challenges to achieve success. ‘I hope that women within our sector remain engaged, passionate and committed to providing the best start to life that all young children deserve.’

The Big Fat Smile Executive Leadership team has a shared understanding of the life-changing impact quality early education and care has and promotes women’s rights and needs in their day to day work. The Executive team strives for community recognition of women working in early childhood as professional, qualified and critical in children’s development. This drive has led Big Fat Smile to support a national campaign, Big Roles in Little Lives, to promote education and care awareness and increase recruitment. Big Fat Smile participation in this campaign aims to promote early education as a career path for women with purpose, satisfaction, and security and build respect and recognition for the female-dominated workforce.

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