Acting head of GTI shattering glass ceilings in male-dominated field

As the acting principal of the Government Technical Institute (GTI) Renita Crandon-Duncan faces two major challenges: she is young and she is a woman. But having been a determined individual from the time she became a teenage mother, Crandon-Duncan who has only been acting head for a few months, vows to use those and other challenges as motivation to ensure her confirmation as principal.

“Many times when people ask to see the principal or the deputy principal [she was in that position previously] some would say ‘you are too young’ and people don’t take you seriously. But I love what I do, I like a challenge,” Crandon-Duncan told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview. Her journey to becoming principal of GTI has been rough, but she would have it no other way because the way she sees it, is that were it not for the potholes and sometimes trenches she had to cross she would not have been where she is today.

Looking on from the outside one would describe her journey as interesting, as Crandon-Duncan was twice a student at the institution. Her student life began at the New Amsterdam Technical Institute where she studied secretarial science “against my will,” she recalled.

20160508Renita Crandon Duncan“I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to do radio electronics but my mom thought that was a guy’s thing… I reluctantly did the programme. I hated shorthand with a passion but I did the programme…Going to the technical institute then actually taught me to value education and value studying and for me to see that I could be the best that I can be,” she said.

It was a valuable experience as when she became head of the Business Department in 2006, secretarial science was one of the programmes being offered and her familiarity with it made it easier for her to manoeuvre around the programme.

A mother of two daughters—the elder being 23 and younger 11—Crandon-Duncan, like so many professional women, has had to balance motherhood and her career. Reflecting, she believes that at times she “bit off more than I could chew” especially given that she was 16 years old when she gave birth to her older daughter. Teenage motherhood is not a medal that Crandon-Duncan wants to display among the many she has, but neither is it one she wants to toss aside. She believes that becoming a mother at such a tender age forced her to push towards being the best that she could be.

“I was always saying I need to do this for my daughter. I need to make a good life for her; so I would always be working harder,” Crandon-Duncan said, even though she admits that she received tremendous support from her parents. So much so that when her daughter was seven years old her it took a small battle to finally take her from her parents’ care and fully into hers.

Teenage motherhood is not something she is proud of but “if I had to do it all over again, based on my child, I would still want to have that child but maybe do it when I am a little older and more mature.”

She admits that initially it was very difficult because teenage motherhood was frowned on. “But having her really allowed me to see life differently, embrace it differently and it allowed me to mature really fast. So things like setting goals started to be a part of me really fast… and so by the time I was 22, I already had a degree and I had a job.”

While she has a busy schedule, Crandon-Duncan finds time for other activities and one of those was being part of the annual Mother and Daughter Pageant twice with her younger daughter; they won in their category both times.


Male dominated

Renita Crandon-Duncan and her younger daughter at the Mother and Daughter Pageant
Renita Crandon-Duncan and her younger daughter at the Mother and Daughter Pageant

Crandon-Duncan said while the majority of lecturers at GTI are men, quite a few women are also on board, especially in senior roles. The business, computer science, science and the electrical departments are headed by women.

“[But] being a woman in technical education is a challenge because… most people believe that woman can’t run technical education; those are male dominated jobs because you have to have the macho, the strength and that kind of thing to run it. They feel that women are too soft, they are too motherly…,” Crandon-Duncan said.

The motherly tag was thrown at her while she was deputy head, when she defended a staff member. “… I was accused of being the mother hen who spreads her wings to protect the chickens… But I felt I was doing my job and it was my job to defend my staff and that is what I was doing.”

And while she would in no way describe herself as being fragile she quickly admits that being a woman in her job environment is a serious challenge and with her background—she did not start in the technical field—moving up the ladder has been twice as hard. Her first degree was in business and marketing and she later read for a post-graduate diploma in education, followed by a Master’s in education.

But before she read for her Master’s and while holding down a full-time job as lecturer, a mother and wife, Crandon-Duncan became “bored” and decided to complete a certificate in mechanical engineering at the same institute where she lectured.

“I was the only girl in the class. It was a tough programme. I had to do things like engineering drawing and I had never done technical drawing… and then there was calc and science… And then we had the technical and the practical where you had to do the filing of the metals and everything was new to me,” she said. But she persevered and in the end graduated with a distinction.

It also helped her to see “the other side” of the institute, which helps tremendously now that she heads it. She joined the GTI staff as a marketing lecturer and did not envision then that it would have been her career as she did not “see teaching as a part of what I wanted to do.” What helped her was the one year teacher training programme she was offered at GTI and she later came to love her job and the successes of her former students bring her great joy. But it has not been a walk in the park.

The institute has had one appointed and one acting principal prior to Crandon-Duncan.

Does she want the job of principal?

“Yes. I think I will be a good … principal. I can make a difference,” Crandon-Duncan said. She will apply when the position is advertised.

And why would she make a good candidate?

“Because I know my potential. I am pretty determined…, sometimes I can be a stickler for certain things but I understand the system. I may not be a 100% people’s person but I understand that people are the most important resources… and I have been working to ensure that my people are happy and satisfied and I know that once that happens everything else would fall into place.”  Crandon-Duncan said she knows where she wants to see GTI go as she wants to see the institution take a new step.

“At this point we are working on rebranding the school and removing the perception people tend to have about technical education – that it is only good for drop outs and that people who are good with their hands and not good with academics,” the acting principal said.

Apart from her challenging job, Crandon-Duncan is currently reading for a second Master’s – this time in Psychology.  She is Programme Director of the Guyana Psychological Association and President of Partners in Unity, an organization she formed with some past contestants of the Ms Guyana Renais-sance Pageant. She also attended dance classes but had to drop this as she lectures part time at the University of Guyana. Her husband has been very supportive because apart from all the activities, her job also demands that she travel extensively.