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Quiet leaders supported in new Otago programme

Monday, 22 May 2017 12:29pm

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Inspiring leaders (from left): Massey’s Professor Sarah Leberman, former New Zealand Women’s Rugby team captain Dr Farah Palmer, Otago’s Associate Professor Karen Nairn of the College of Education and Claire Porima from the Office of Maori Development, during this month’s Young Women in Leadership programme.

Year 12 girls with leadership potential are being supported by a new University of Otago programme aimed at fostering young leaders.

The Young Women in Leadership programme was launched this month by the College of Education’s Associate Professor Karen Nairn, in partnership with Massey’s Professor Sarah Leberman, and 18 girls from Dunedin’s nine secondary schools participated – two from each school.

Associate Professor Nairn says they asked schools to nominate girls who they perceived as having leadership potential, but who were not already getting leadership roles or opportunities.

“We wanted to provide opportunities for girls who might not already be getting opportunities to be leaders,” explains Associate Professor Nairn. “These might be girls who are quieter.”

The girls, all in their second-to-last year of school, participated in a day of activities this month, will complete a project over the next two months, and then return for another session in July.

Associate Professor Nairn says the programme aims to get the girls thinking about what leadership means.

"We’re particularly keen to get young women thinking that anyone can be a leader, you don’t have to be an extroverted go-getter. You can be a quiet leader, or collaborative leaders."

“We’re particularly keen to get young women thinking that anyone can be a leader, you don’t have to be an extroverted go-getter. You can be a quiet leader, or collaborative leaders.”

This month’s session featured Dr Farah Palmer, an Otago graduate and the former captain of the New Zealand Women’s Rugby team, who discussed her own leadership journey.

The programme is a replica of one Professor Leberman is running in the North Island.

Associate Professor Nairn says she was inspired to bring the programme to Dunedin after meeting Professor Leberman at a New Zealand Women in Leadership course for the university sector. Not only was Professor Leberman willing to share the project, she came to Dunedin to help Associate Professor Nairn run it.

“It was incredibly generous of Sarah, and of Massey to share the project. It is a real cross-university collaboration.”

Associate Professor Nairn, who teaches and researches gender issues in education, says women are underrepresented in leadership roles in New Zealand – and this is one way to address this issue.

It’s also an opportunity to give back to Dunedin’s secondary schools, she says.

“The College asks a lot from our local schools. They open their doors to our students completing practicums and to our students and academics completing research. This is our chance to give something back.”

Associate Professor Nairn says she hopes to continue the programme each year, expanding it to include girls from rural schools.