By Lily McCaffrey
I was so impressed when I discovered that my old friend and fellow JD student Tess McGuire had started a new program, ‘Watch Us Lead’. The program strives to connect Year 12 girls who come from low socio-economic areas with young women who are either studying or working in a professional field. I sat down with her and asked her some questions.
What inspired you to start Watch Us Lead?
I have always been passionate about gender equality and ensuring that everyone has equal opportunity to quality education, as in seriously, I feel like I was born with this passion.
Watch Us Lead is for me the small contribution that I can make in enabling Year 12 girls to have the opportunity to be exposed to different ideas about what they could pursue in the future. It is my hope that this exposure will encourage them to dream big and will help them overcome the challenges that high school girls, in particular, often face in regards to coming to terms with how confident and ambitious they should be in a climate that discourages them from pursuing certain pathways.
Tell us how Watch Us Lead works as a program.
Watch Us Lead holds monthly sessions with a small group of Year 12 girls where we bring in two different speakers, both of whom are young women but come from diverse backgrounds. They then present to the girls what it is they do, whether it be studying or working in a professional field and how they got there. They explain their narrative and the challenges they have faced along the way and then engage in discussion with the girls so we can help them to understand that these challenges are often universal.
Why do you think that young women are in need of a program like Watch Us Lead?
I think as a young woman personally, I have drawn such immense inspiration from seeing other young women achieve or even aspire to achieve in different areas. I think we still live in a society that strongly discourages young women from being naturally ambitious and from entering into certain masculine fields. Participating in Watch Us Lead means that the girls can directly see, in front of them, another woman who looks just like them and who is succeeding, and I think it is so important to ensure that every girl believes in herself.
I understand that you ran the first session of Watch Us Lead with girls from Hume Central Secondary College about a month ago. How did that go?
It was actually such a fantastic experience. It was incredible seeing the faces of the girls light up as they met with two young women, both doing different things. One, a cadet engineer working for a national engineering consultancy company. The other, a young woman who had studied a degree in public health promotion and now works for different organisations that strive to alleviate health problems. There was one moment when the cadet engineer was explaining different jobs that engineers can do and she explained that the role of a chemical engineer is to actually create make-up and that they work for all of the international cosmetic brands. One girl was so shocked to hear this news and it was hilarious because she blurted out, ‘Oh my goodness I love chemistry, and I love make up! Who knew?’ It was so great to see them respond in such a positive way to learning about these different pathways that they could perhaps pursue in the future.
It sounds like your program has already made a difference! It’s very commendable that you have started up this new initiative whilst studying law. How have you managed to balance both?
I think it is true what they say, that it is better to ask the busier person to do something because they actually get it done. This is a program that I have wanted to start for years and an idea that has been percolating in my mind for some time. Last year, I just said to myself that there are no more excuses and that if I didn’t get it done before finishing studying I was worried it would never happen.
In terms of managing the balance, I’ve started it at a very small scale, so that it is not too demanding administratively, but that it has the potential to grow and I will be able to do that on my own terms, when I have the capacity.
How can people get involved in the program?
I am actively looking for young women who can participate as speakers. Any person who knows of a young woman who is still studying or working, and is a confident and gregarious person, get in touch with them and encourage them to put up their hand or just volunteer them and I can get in touch with them directly. It really is a great opportunity to stand up in front of other young women and gain some speaking experience through sharing your narrative with a group of people who are there to listen.
What are your hopes for the future of Watch Us Lead?
The long-term plan is for it to be able to expand and partner with more schools, particularly in low socio-economic areas where the need is greater for these resources and programs. In terms of right now, we are focussing on the girls from Hume Central Secondary, with our priority to make their experience of Year 12 the best it can be.
You contact Tess and keep up to date with Watch Us Lead by liking the facebook page, ‘Watch Us Lead’.