1. Tell us a bit about yourself
I am a Counselling Psychologist by profession and currently fulfill the role of Academic Dean at the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP). As a Counselling Psychologist, I have worked in a variety of settings, including a university counselling centre, a community clinic, and private practice. As a practicing psychologist, I have always had a special interest in working with children and adolescents.
As a psychologist and researcher, I had the privilege of working alongside my mentor, supervisor, and friend, Professor Lindy Wilbraham with an organisation called Isibindi (meaning courage). In response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in SA, South Africa’s National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) has developed a community-based care and protection intervention option for children.
Isibindi enables poorly resourced communities to adopt an evidence-based approach to the provision of integrated welfare services, and rapidly develop effective and informed local care and protection services for children.
I later went on to situate my Ph.D. within the Isibindi project working in Alice in the Eastern Cape. For 3 years I worked extremely closely with 7 children and their siblings, growing up in grandmother-headed households as a result of having lost their mothers to AIDS.
I spent these years deeply involved in the lives of these families, spending time in their homes, at the children’s schools, at family events, and even at the grandmother’s places of work. I witnessed moments of loss of loved ones, job insecurity, abuse and sickness, and death. But I also experienced moments of great resilience and joy and triumph. My Ph.D. is ultimately the story of these children’s lives. Shortly after finishing my Ph.D. I left the Eastern Cape for Cape Town and moved out of research and more fully into teaching and practice.
While I enjoyed my time in practice, I still had a deep need to make a systemic difference to have a sustainable impact on the lives of many. I wanted to play a part in changing the system. This is what drew me back to education. My sense that I could have the greatest impact if I went to the root of where it all started, in the training of mental health care providers. I was also so deeply impacted personally by my journey in higher education that I thought if I could be part of ensuring that others had the opportunity to be impacted in similar ways then that is where I wanted to situate my career.
I was really attracted to the work that SACAP was doing and so started to teach on a part-time basis. Something about the College resonated with me on a deep and personal level and so I applied for a full-time role and was successfully appointed as the Head of Academic Programmes. Since then, I have held the position of Head of Programmes, Academic Head, Deputy Dean and as of January 2021, Academic Dean.
I have a wonderful husband, Michael, whom I met at university. He is also a Counselling Psychologist and also works in higher education at a different Private Higher Education Institution. You can imagine the interesting dinner-time conversation. Although these days there is little time for dinner conversations as we recently had our first baby, a little boy called Charlie Gray McInerney who is 9 months old. We also have a beloved ginger cat named Harriet.
Before having Charlie, I was a keen amateur triathlete. I have competed in a few half-ironmen and also completed the Cape Town Cycle Tour as part of a buggy team to raise funds for the Chaeli Campaign, which is one of our partner sites for our MSocSci programme at SACAP. My buggy consists of my riding partner Earl and a wonderful young man called Kudzai who lives with cerebral palsy and is one of the most determined and tenacious people I have the pleasure of calling a friend.
2. What work do you do?
I am the Academic Dean at the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP). SACAP is a Private Higher Education Institution that was established in 1997 and boasts campuses in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Pretoria, and Online. SACAP initially offered qualifications within the Applied Psychology space but has subsequently expanded to include qualifications in Management and Leadership, as well as Social Work and Community Development, with other exciting opportunities on the horizon.
In the context of Private Higher Education, the role of a Dean is often one that intersects education or academia, with business. In the case of SACAP, I form part of the Executive Team responsible for the strategic growth and leadership of the College. From an academic perspective, I am responsible for the overall academic integrity of the institution, inclusive of the quality of the overall teaching and learning strategy and delivery. My role intersects both the strategic and operational realms. I am fortunate to work with an inspiring and forward-thinking group of people who are truly interested in removing bureaucracy for the sake of innovation and progress.
3. How long have you been in the industry?
I have a combined 11 years working experience in the Psychology and Higher Education space.
4. Has your work always been your passion? Tell us why?
I have always been passionate about walking alongside people as they grow. This has been true from my early days as a swimming and hockey coach in high school, all the way until today, both as a psychologist, a leader, and as an educator.
Having the opportunity to engage in higher education as a student and its associated experiences were profoundly life-changing for me. I feel inspired by providing others the opportunity to experience something similar on a daily basis. Although I don’t get into the classroom nearly as often as I would like, knowing that through my work with SACAP staff and educators we’re impacting the lives of countless, students, their families, and communities and helping to train and equip a generation of social scientists who are positioned to apply their learning across our country for the benefit of its people is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
5. Being a woman in the industry – what does it take?
Women actually dominate the psychology profession and this is because careers which are associated with caring have often been considered to be feminine. The struggle has often been, however, for women to attain the top-level roles within the profession, although I believe this is slowly changing. My role as Academic Dean is slightly different though, I think that female representation in the most senior roles in higher education still has some way to go. Furthermore, my specific role intersects both business and academia, so essentially these are both spaces where female leadership is globally underrepresented.
Other than representation, as a woman in any position of power or leadership, unfortunately, it is frequently just that little bit harder to earn the same level of respect often awarded to a male counterpart as a matter of fact by virtue of his gender.
I, however, feel very fortunate to work for a very progressive Higher Education Institution at SACAP, where 3 of the 4 executives are all women who bring a diverse range of knowledge, qualities, and skills to the table. Furthermore, a large proportion of the Academic Leadership team is made up of an exceptional group of strong and passionate women.
6. What has been the most difficult challenge of your career?
Both in my role as a psychologist and as a young academic, I struggled with people underestimating my ability as a result of my age. This was particularly evident when working with children, which was my focus as a practicing psychologist. Psychology is an interesting field, as although maturity and life experience are really important, for me maturity and age have very little to do with one another. Furthermore, you don’t need to have gone through something yourself to be able to put yourself in another’s shoes and try to see it from their perspective. I have, however, learnt to embrace my age and understand that it often gives me an edge. I am an “old soul”, but I have an ability to relate to young people and this has been of great value to me in my career, both in psychology and education.
And then possibly one of my greatest challenges which I have had to overcome numerous times in my career has been my own self-doubt and how that can sometimes be the greatest hurdle of all. With every promotion or move in an organisation, comes new doubts and questions, and that is okay, but it’s important not to let it define your success, but rather work to grow through each new challenge.
Possibly the greatest challenge I have faced since the birth of my little boy is the work-life balance. I am never really satisfied with doing anything in a half-hearted manner. I have had to extend myself some grace in trying to believe that it is possible to be committed to my career, as well as be a ‘good-enough mother. This is a challenge which many career mothers before me have had to face and will continue to face in the future.
7. What advice do you have for other women in your industry?
Believe in yourself, know your value and worth, so that the girls that come after us can have enough self-belief to fulfill their every dream. Understand, that success doesn’t require aggression or other ‘masculine qualities often associated with strength. That true strength lies in authenticity and that empathy is as critical to success and a strength in and of itself.
8. Plans for the future?
I plan to be part of SACAP’s long-term growth and innovation strategy. That being said, my career will no doubt continue to be focused on positions that are centered around a personal sense of purpose and the opportunity to meaningfully contribute.
For more visit: www.sacap.edu.za