Marcia Devlin has a pretty simple but powerful theory: Education is the answer to all the world’s woes.
It’s this belief that drives Marcia’s passion to improve the education experience for Australian university students, as the Associate Deputy Vice Chancellor and Executive Director for RMIT Studios (RMIT University).
Everyday, she works tirelessly to lead efforts and research into student learning, looking at data, analytics and trends as well as enhancing the quality of teaching through educating other educators on her findings.
It’s little surprise that Marcia was the winner of the Emerging Leader in the Public Sector accolade at the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards 2016. We check in with her for an update on the past 12 months, her advice to all women and the passion that drives her powerful vision.
What inspired you to pursue a career in education?
I have a view that education is the answer to all the world’s woes. Whether it’s inequality, poverty, racism, environmental depredation – you name the woe and I can tell you how education can contribute to resolving it. I started as a school teacher and psychologist and moved into tertiary education partly because of the scale of influence you can have. RMIT has over 80,000 students – my work there has the potential to have an enormous impact on the quality of the education of all of those students.
Can you give us an update on the past year, since winning the Emerging Leader in the Public Sector award?
Well I’m changing roles and moving to a much bigger organisation, which is one important change. And having experienced the connections being involved in awards can bring, I have redoubled my efforts to encourage other women to apply for awards – I’ve always done this but I’m now being more pushy!
What does an average day look like for you?
I wake up early and check emails in bed with a cup of tea. Then I get ready for work, say goodbye to my family (a husband and two young adult children) and often do a one and half to two hour drive to the office (I have been working in the country for the past five years). A typical day involves a lot of meetings – often 8 or 9 – and in between these, I follow up on actions and respond to emails, and sometimes walk to clear my head and sneak exercise in. I eat lunch (usually leftover dinner) at my desk. I finish work and try to walk for at least 30 mins before heading either to my accommodation or home. I have dinner alone if I’m away or with whomever is home if not – my husband does all the cooking – and then usually back to emails and work. I often watch a bit of telly or a recorded series, or go on social media, to wind down and try to go to bed by 10pm.
What unique skill/s do you have that have helped you grow and be successful?
I don’t think my skills are unique but two that have helped me are the ability and willingness to work really, really hard over many years and the determination to do my job to the absolute best of my ability every day.
How are you handling the daily juggle?
My children can now dress, feed and mostly organise themselves and are pretty self-sufficient so my juggle is easier now. For nearly 20 years I worked part-time and felt pretty frazzled and rushed for a long time. Now the juggle is to fit in exercise and down-time when there is always an urgent something or other to deal with.
What does the ideal future look like for you?
Large numbers of people having the opportunity to study at tertiary level, without crippling debt, who can then have better life chances, better health, and better income and be able to contribute to their communities and society and the world and collectively make it a better place for everyone and for generations to come.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Choose your life partner very carefully. I already had, and got a really good guy, but some women aren’t so fortunate. Your partner will have a large influence on your success and happiness so make sure he or she is really on your side.
How do you look after your wellbeing outside of work?
I walk a lot, I swim on weekends, I go to exercise classes occasionally, I keep a journal, I meditate irregularly, I spend time with friends and family, I watch rom com movies when no-one is looking, I read novels, I listen to beautiful music, I drink a bit of wine, I get enough sleep and I take whatever advice my mother gives me.
What advice would you have for other emerging female leaders?
Choose your life partner carefully, do your best, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve done your best, and get enough sleep.
How do you think the world would change if there were more female leaders?
There would be more collaboration and kindness and less conflict. I really believe that. Things would not be perfect but issues would get talked through more often and resolved.
What are you doing to inspire more women and girls into leadership?
I don’t think women and girls need to be inspired, I think they need help – with childcare, with housework, with resisting the pressures to be ‘perfect’, with managing unconscious bias and being overlooked in the workplace, with navigating the man’s world that is in many workplaces, with managing subtle sexism and discrimination, with understanding the rules of the work and advancement game in their industry and with building their confidence in the face of all of the above. I try to help women I come into contact with to manage all of this whether through conversation or formal mentoring and I accept every invitation I can, to speak publicly about women in leadership – to both men and women. We need to collaborate with men if we are to change things as men currently hold most of the power and they decide with whom they will share.
What advice would you tell your 18-year-old self?
Don’t go out with that idiot you went out with before you met your husband – he wasted years of your life; stand up to bullies early – they are weak and pathetic and will crumble if you do – and failing that, take your talents elsewhere ASAP; be kind to everyone – you don’t know what they are going through; and work hard and always look after your health and wellbeing.