"Women take back control over their lives"

In Australia, the participation rate of women in the workforce is 62.2%. Significantly less than the proportion of men (71.1%). Under-representation of women is a systemic and historical issue that in real terms has not significantly shifted. In the state of Victoria, Chandler Macleod, is stepping up to help women getting back into the workforce, in conjunction with Jobs Victoria. Specifically women over the age of 45.

Cathy Dunham is a Mentor with Chandler Macleod’s Employment Equity Program No Glass Ceiling. “Women aged 45 and older in particular struggle to find work, due to many different barriers”, says Cathy. "It may be that as a stay-at-home mom they have not been active in the job market for years. Or perhaps they have suddenly lost their financial security due to a divorce. Other women are victims of domestic violence or are homeless."

Since the start of the six-month No Glass Ceiling Program in October 2021, Chandler Macleod has already helped more than 200 women over 45 to start an entry-level job. "I always tell them that this is the first step on a new journey, towards their independence," Cathy says.

It all started on a Thursday night…

One of these women is 57-year old Rita, who herself faced a couple of barriers, she says. "I had minimal education and dropped out of school when I was 13. Growing up, my childhood was quite tumultuous. Thirty years back I moved to Malta and found a job in sales. Throughout the years I've worked my way up to become retail manager. A very prestigious job for me, because of my limited education. But I had had enough of working in retail. And recent experiences made me return to Australia, with zero financial buffers."

Back in Australia, looking for a job so she could at least pay her rent and bills, one night Rita took up her phone and started looking for a job, she remembers. That was the moment she read about the No Glass Ceiling program. "It was on a Thursday very late in the evening that I came across the program. I thought: it’s about me. So I filled out the form and the next day Cathy called."

Start with a two-week course

Shortly thereafter, Rita joined the program, which starts with two weeks of training. Cathy explains what those weeks entail. "The first week is all about building self-confidence. We break down any barriers and show the participants the job opportunities for them. But we do more. We also give them information and tools to organize their financial matters. Many people don’t exactly know what money is coming in and going out and may unintentionally be living beyond their means. We help the participants to regain control of their finances, for example by making a budget.”

During that first week, the women individually take a psychometric test to help them appreciate their skills. They also meet the company they’ll be working for and set goals for themselves.

The second week mainly revolves around what Cathy calls “workplace expectations”, covering topics, such as work-related health and safety issues, food safety, or how to deal with bullying and harassment. By the end of the two-week training course, the participants are ready to start work. Cathy: "That's our commitment to them."

More than training

According to Cathy, the No Glass Ceiling Program is more than just training. "We also provide additional support and listen to the participants. With this program we empower women to re-enter the workforce and show them that every barrier can be overcome."

"The program was amazing," Rita looks back on the two-week training session. "To be honest, I felt a bit of a phony on my first day. Because I had enough work experience, and I surely did have the confidence and skills needed in sales. Maybe I shouldn't be here, I thought. But that feeling quickly changed. This is not a traditional training where one person is constantly telling you all kind of things. It’s actually a conversation with all the participants. It felt like I was being spoken and listened to," Rita says.

A new job for Rita

Rita now works as an air marshal at an airport, where she drives trolleys with food to the planes and empty trolleys back to the caterer. "I'm a truck driver now! Who’d have thought I would ever do that? I sure didn’t. Some would say it's a step back coming from sales and retail. But I don’t see it that way. I'm happy again and wake up every morning excited to go to work. I didn't have that anymore at my previous job. I'm living a life I couldn't have imagined living."

Rita calls the No Glass Ceiling Program life-changing. "My life has changed completely. I’m once again earning my own money. I’m happy. My confidence has grown and I’ve learned new skills. Isn't that fantastic! I have never owned my own house, always rented a place. I can now think about buying a house. I’ve changed my career aged 57. What's to stop me from doing something else?"

Cathy says, "What I always tell the women is that with a job, they have an income, which automatically changes one’s life. I remember Rita said to me, 'I'm really getting to the bones with money.' Now, she doesn’t has to worry about that anymore." Rita adds, "I now earn more as a blue-collar worker than as a retail manager. I didn't even know that was possible."

Giving opportunities for life

"The No Glass Ceiling Program literally gives opportunities for life”, Cathy says. “Every time I see the same change taking place in these women. At first, you see them thinking, 'There we go, yet another training.' But very quickly, that reluctance turns into excitement. And after only a short training period there’s a job waiting for them. We open doors that those women always thought were closed to them. That sums up the whole program for me." “I bless this program”, Rita says. 

Cathy Dunham