International Women’s Day Series: Jessica Leonard

Our International Women’s Day Series celebrates UQ business, economics and law professionals excelling in their careers.

Elevating the value of learning and teaching

Profile photo of Jessica Leonard in UQ's Great CourtWith two degrees and almost a third under her belt, it’s clear Jessica Leonard is passionate about education. After completing an undergraduate degree at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and a postgraduate degree (Master of Philosophy) at Trinity College in Dublin, Jessica is now completing a Doctor of Education (EdD) while working part-time and juggling caring responsibilities.

In her role as a Senior Education Designer, Jessica works in partnership with staff and students to enhance learning, teaching and assessment practices across the Business, Economics and Law Faculty. This can include supporting academic program reviews, facilitating professional development workshops for academic staff, and engaging in Student Staff Partnership Projects to enhance the student experience.

Read on to learn more about what and who inspires her, and her advice for other female-identifying professionals.

What are 3 words that best describe you?

Determined, caring, independent thinker

What do you love most about your job?

The people I get to work with. I feel lucky to work with, and learn from, intelligent, motivated people who care deeply about education.

How do you define success?

For me, success is when I feel inspired by my work, and when I feel I’m making a positive difference in other people’s lives. This could be through helping an academic to improve their teaching practice, supporting a colleague or contributing to policies that will have a greater educational impact.

Why do you think education is so important in advancing a woman’s career?

Participating in higher education is about more than advancing women’s careers, it leads to better financial, social, and even health outcomes for women. It is key to helping women achieve independence, well-being, and equality.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

The disproportionate burden of caring responsibilities and the mental load placed on women in comparison to men. Sometimes when I talk about this, people tell me they have equal distribution in their households or workplaces. That’s great, but this is a real, systemic issue that continues to impact women’s participation in leadership roles. In Australia, research shows that men do significantly less care labour than women and are significantly more likely to hold managerial positions, even in female-dominated industries. The most recent WGEA Gender Equality Scorecard (PDF, 4.1 MB) will tell you more.

Who inspires you?

I think Serena Williams is a feminist icon of our times. I find it inspiring how she has navigated motherhood and her career on her own, unapologetic terms. If you haven’t read it, I recommend her essay for Vogue about her retirement, or as she calls it “evolution”, from tennis.

Who or what has been your greatest source of support?

I’m very lucky to be surrounded by a wonderful group of female friends, colleagues, and mentors who have been unequivocal in their support and encouragement as I balance parenthood, work, and study.

What’s been the biggest ‘pinch me’ moment of your career?

Probably when I completed my confirmation seminar for my Doctor of Education program last year. My research focuses on student experience, which helps strengthen my professional practice. When I achieved this milestone, it felt like everything was coming together and made me excited for future possibilities.

What piece of advice has changed your life that you think would help other women?

A moment that really influenced me was when an acquaintance told me, with the greatest confidence, that there was no way I would be able to complete a doctoral degree and have a baby at the same time. The guilt, the stress, the imposter syndrome would just be too much!

Well, I am now two years into my EdD program and my daughter is two. I don’t feel guilty and I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything. So, I suppose my advice is to reject the limiting narratives that are so often placed on women about what we can, and should, be doing and feeling.

View more inspiring stories from female-identifying UQ staff working in the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law.

Last updated:
21 February 2023