Tricia Caswell

on Tuesday, 22 May 2012. Posted in Leadership Interviews, Interviews about the Glass Ceiling

Tricia Caswell
Executive Director of Global Sustainability at RMIT University since October 2000.

Advisory Positions: Victorian Schools Innovation Commission ·  ·  Global Mining Initiative Assurance Group · BHP-Billiton External Advisory Group  ·  · Minerals Council of Australia Code Advisory Group ·   Westpac’s Ecoshare Fund Advisory Group ·  Close the Loop, Board Member

In the past Tricia has been:

  • A Teacher, in Secondary, TAFE, tertiary sections, 1969 -1979 
  • A Trade Union Leader 1979-1992: General Secretary Technical Teachers Union of Victoria
  • An Environmentalist 1992 -1995
  • An International Aid and Development, CEO

Interview with Tricia Caswell

Do you think that there is an invisible barrier preventing women from reaching the highest level in your profession regardless of their accomplishments and merits? 

For most professional women the dynamics of their careers are different from most men. The barriers are not necessarily invisible. Commitment to and tasks around family, education, health, daily logistics still fall to women. 

Executive cultures are still significantly male; clubbish, sports oriented, demanding of time, place and space. Men enjoy these culture mores. Their wives expect to run households, children’s schooling, a taxi service. So many women still work part time and have discontinuous careers. They don’t want to give up their emotions, their friends, their cultural experiences, diversity. 

As a CEO, you are lucky to have time to read the paper! 

In universities women have been making progress as students, teachers, administrators. At the very top levels, however, we are few. RMIT’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Ruth Dunkin is the first woman Vice Chancellor in Victorian history. 

If yes, why do you think this exists in your profession? 

Traditionally Universities are scholarship leaders. Scholarship leaders have had great power and influence, the terrain of males in modern history. But, like in everything, change is hard, and is seldom welcomed. If women are to have equal opportunities as men, they are less available for the supportive roles that male leaders have assumed and relied upon, so men of necessity will continue to resit such change priorites. 

Is this barrier in your profession penetrable? How can the barrier be dismantled in your profession? 

Academia however, is fertile ground. There is independence, flexibility and diversity that seems to suit women who want, need other lives, or who have to provide supporting environments for others, their children, their spouses, their parents. You can work on line, prepare or research at home. Few lecturers have 9-5 kind of days every day. 

Do you consider yourself to have broken through the Glass ceiling in your profession? If yes, how have you done this? 

As CEO of two non-government organisations, ACF and Plan International I guess I have been through part of the glass ceiling. I can’t explain it, tenacity, hard work, taking big risks, taking opportunities, being adaptive, and lateral have all been part of my work and life. 

In general, what do you see as the underlying cause that must be addressed to shatter the glass ceiling in corporate and public Australia? 

I think some women will continue to make it to the top. What I think will not happen is an equal spread of women across all kinds of work and up all kinds of varied corporate ladders. Some industries and companies have few women anywhere, let alone at the top. 

Unless the pressure on executives is lessened and they are not expected to perform miracles there are not enough rewards for most women. Women are interested in economic independence, of course, but they value and are expected to value other rewards just as much. This is beginning to be true of men as well. Male executives are opting out. 

Values are changing. Corporations, governments, others are being pressed to accede to multidimensional goals and accountabilities, valuing not just the economic but also the environmental, social and cultural as well as the way we are governed. We call it Global sustainability at RMIT University. These are the sets of values and accountabilities that should help us dissolve that ceiling, the sooner the better.