Executive Interview Series | Jane Sydenham-Clarke | Skyline Education Foundation

By Jennifer Galvin-Rowley

This conversation is brought to you by Galvin-Rowley Executive. As executive recruitment specialists, we worked with Skyline Education Foundation to place Jane Sydenham-Clarke in this role in 2018 and have been thrilled to see her and this organisation move from strength to strength since that time. We thought that their current Workplace Giving initiative was well worth sharing with our wider community. 

If you are as yet unaware of Skyline Education Foundation, they provide intensive support for high-ability students who are gifted and/or academically talented, with a growth mindset, leadership potential, and resilience in the face of their social and economic challenges. Skyline supports them to find pathways to further study and employment, becoming leaders for change.

Name: Jane Sydenham-Clarke | Company: Skyline Education Foundation | Role: Chief Executive Officer | Years In Role: Three

To start this conversation, can you tell us what initially attracted you to this CEO role with Skyline Education Foundation?

Oh, there were so many elements that attracted me to both Skyline and this role.

I have been driven throughout my career by Purpose – it has always been fundamental for me to feel and know in my heart and head that I am making a genuine difference individually and collectively for a better future. In this context, Skyline’s mission resonated strongly – I was moved by the opportunity to empower resilient high ability VCE Students to successfully complete school and transition to higher education and/or career of choice, thereby supporting a generational circuit breaker for our incredible students, alumni and their eco-systems.

The passion of Skyline’s leaders resonated with me, as did the Directors’ commitment to change, growth and innovation. I sensed a bold culture and an opportunity for an inaugural CEO to harness immense potential. This was appealing.

What was your background before joining Skyline?

I started my career as a general nurse and transitioned to mental health, where I learned so much about the human condition, which remains helpful every day.

I had a lucky break and was invited into health promotion, initially in government and then with VicHealth. I led several programs, seeding my interest in innovative commercial practice for social outcomes. I have held leadership roles at Southgate Arts and Leisure Precinct, Kidney Health Australia and for close to ten years, led marketing and public engagement for Federation Square. As CEO at Freemasons Victoria, I was responsible for leading transformational change in a deeply traditional organisation.

I am a Monash University graduate with a BA (Hons) Women’s Studies (Success for Women at Work) and MA (Creating an Icon), Leadership Victoria Fellow, and Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

For ten years, I supported as Deputy Chair of the Victorian Tourism Awards Judges Panel, and more recently, I joined the Engagement Australia Awards judges panel. I have loved contributing in various pro bono roles, including on Boards such as the Health Issues Centre, Centre for Grief Education, and currently as a Director of Urban Camp and Chair of Tradeswomen Australia.

What does a typical working day look like for you at Skyline?

As Skyline Education Foundation’s inaugural CEO, my days are eclectic, leading a talented and aspirational management team as we grow the number of resilient high-ability Students’ empowerment through our unique program.

In March 2020, our Team seamlessly pivoted to online service delivery, and since, we have continued to operate remotely, coming together physically for special projects and occasions. As a small not for profit, we are all hands-on, responding to the many opportunities that come our way, often thanks to our engaged Board of Directors.

I spend time with our VCE students, alumni in university, graduates starting their careers, philanthropists, supporters, educators, and other professionals who support our work. I am blown away daily by our students’ gratitude and immense potential and the open-hearted generosity of our Skyline community, which enables us in so many ways.

We are currently in a period of changing work environments bought about by COVID. What have been the most significant challenges your organisation has faced during this period?

While we have found many benefits in our digital transition, ultimately, our need for human connection prevails. We have learned that connection can be enhanced online, such as overcoming the tyranny of distance for our regional students. Still, we long for the opportunity to come together soon in person, and we need the positive impact this will bring.

Access to effective technology is by no means a given. We have struggled to overcome challenges for our students and alumni who do not have digital devices or reliable internet connections – this continues as a significant focus – in fact, a human right.

COVID has brought sharp intensity to pre-existing challenges, particularly food and housing security. That hunger and homelessness prevail amongst our brightest young Victorians is simply unacceptable. I am immensely grateful to our generous supporters who have stepped forward to help us in these most difficult times.

Still considering the impact of COVID; what would be the greatest positives or benefits that your organisation can take away from this period of change?

Through the cacophony of 2020, Skyline stepped up and lifted social return on investment to $13.20 for every dollar invested. Necessity became the mother of invention, and now we are supporting more students with more impactful opportunities, many of which are coming to life online.

To stay connected through the power of our digital strategy has been an absolute game-changer. Thankfully, with the support of our Board and generous Donors, I have been surrounded by incredibly talented colleagues who have applied their brilliance and transformed our organisation into a more agile, contemporary, efficient and effective operation. This means we are now well-placed for sustainable growth as we extend into more schools for more students to benefit from our evidence-based program.

There has been much discussion about gender equity in the workplace of recent times. As a leading female CEO, what advice would you offer other women working in your industry?

What can I say? Despite generations of effort and rhetoric, the evidence is disheartening as the dial hardly shifts. It is a disgrace and a huge loss of individual and collective opportunity that fewer women run top Australian companies than men named John — or Peter, or David; or that women represent 2% of most trades.

My advice to women is to step forward, talk to yourself like you would to your most loved one. Be your number one fan. Be creative and march to the beat of your own drum so that you can deliver the results, but in your own way. You don’t need to follow patriarchal norms; you can be more collaborative, communicative and caring. COVID has shown us that the game can change.

Importantly, please support each other. It can be very lonely as a senior professional woman. Be kind to yourself and your sisters.

Can you explain the core business of Skyline Education Foundation?

Skyline works to provide intensive support for high-ability students who are gifted and/or academically talented, with a growth mindset, leadership potential, and resilience in the face of their social and economic challenges.

We support them to find pathways to further study and employment – becoming leaders for change. The unique VCE two-year Skyline Program experience includes residential and masterclass components, financial reimbursement and personal support, consolidated by lifelong connection in an inclusive, respectful and supportive Alumni network.

What is your Workplace Giving program, and what about this program is particularly special to you?

It costs around $6,000 to support a student for one year in our transformational Program. One student can join the Program if 25 employees join together, each giving $20 from their pre-tax monthly pay packet. And that’s not all! If the employer matches this, we can support a student for the whole two-year VCE experience!

This Program is particularly special for me because I see, every day, the difference this can make for a young person’s life, their family and our community as a whole. Meet, for example, an Alumnus Gypsy or Student Mya.

Can you tell us about your Non-Executive experience?

It’s been a joy over several years to judge the Victorian Tourism and Engagement Australia Awards; and a privilege to contribute in governance roles including on Boards such as with the Health Issues Centre, Centre for Grief Education, and currently as a Director of Urban Camp, Tradeswomen Australia Community Foundation and as Chair of Tradeswomen Australia.

What would be your top time management tips?

Planning and discipline. Taking the time to meta-plan; annually and monthly, and then more granularly map out your schedule weekly. Remain disciplined to keep to the plan.

Review every week and day to ingest the inevitable exigencies and make tough calls when necessary. Keep detailed lists to avoid slipping between the stools and surrounding yourself with diverse, emotionally intelligent and highly talented colleagues who address your gaps with their skills and attributes.

Do you have a favourite book and/or podcast that inspires your business direction and motivation?

So many! I love Rachael Kable’s ‘The Mindful Kind’ and, of course, Brene Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly’ and ‘Rising Strong’. I’ve just been stirred by Bri Lee’s ‘Who Gets to Be Smart’, and I will always hold Malala Yousafzai’s ‘I am Malala’, close to my heart.

Find out more about Skyline Education Foundation and their Workplace Giving Program.

Current Roles Available with Skyline Education Foundation

General Manager Learning Services

Skyline Education Foundation are searching for a General Manager Learning Services to join their small aspirational Team dedicated to empowering resilient high ability VCE Students and Alumni, building partnerships with Victorian Government, Schools and Universities and driving sustainable growth and innovation.

If you are a leading educator with a passion for purpose, CLICK HERE to find out more.

Major Projects and Partnerships Manager, Tradeswomen Australia

Tradeswomen Australia are on the hunt for a superstar Major Projects and Partnerships Manager with a passion for gender equity, diversity and inclusion to join their ever-growing team! If you’d like to join this driven and dedicated team, CLICK HERE to find out more.

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