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3 March 2021

International Women's Day 2021 #ChooseToChallenge

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2021, ratio: is highlighting the stories of Colleen Peterson and Catherine Heggen. 

This year’s theme, “choose to challenge,” explores the idea of every individual being responsible for their own thoughts and actions. As individuals, we can all choose to challenge, call out gender bias and inequality, and work together to create an inclusive world!

Catherine Heggen, Director of Planning and Urban Design at ratio: reflects on three influential women who have taught her how to challenge. Catherine explores her relationships with Toni Logan, Patricia Alonso, and her mother, who all played integral parts in shaping the woman she is today.

The broader sweep of life presents all of us with many challenges – some like COVID-19 are events beyond our individual control. Self-help books will tell you that it is not what happens to you but rather how you respond to those events that matters. Whilst this is a cliché, there is a kernel of truth to the aphorism. Sometimes the complexities and demands of a work life can be overwhelming.  However, after almost 40 years as a professional engaged in the practice of planning and urban design I still draw inspiration from the example of other women who influenced me and each in their own way demonstrated persistence, determination, and application – the three qualities I think that are great ones to nurture in yourself and to recognize in others that you admire.

The three women that for me, still demonstrate what it means to challenge yourself and others are, two former lecturers of mine at Melbourne University one being Toni Logan, who was an Urban Geographer and the other was Patricia Alonso, a map specialist. The third was my mother… but more on her later.

My love of and interest in urban geography was encouraged at school by the written text that Toni Logan co-authored. And here she was as one of my university lecturers! She lectured without notes and was a superb communicator. Later in her life she extended her considerable list of publications to include books on place, culture, and geography in other parts of the world and also taught English as a second language. Toni was a great example of challenging yourself to have an adaptable career arc that allowed her to be so much more than a university lecturer.

Patricia Alonso was a graduate of Columbia University and an expert on maps. The basics and conventions of map and plan preparation remain with me because of Patricia’s tutelage. It still annoys me to this day when authors of plans or maps don’t have symbols in their Legend bar that are depicted on a plan. Patricia had the challenge of establishing herself in a different country and in turn she challenged so many students and peers on how maps and plans were to be prepared and then they were to be cared for in libraries. She was dogged in her requirement for the highest standards. Patricia’s star burnt brightly but she died early after a short illness.

Finally, my mother lead by example – she arrived in 1950’s Australia as a young English bride and a graduate of Manchester University determined to apply the education that what was afforded to her in the darkest days of WW2. The Australia she made her home in is barely recognizable in 2021. Back then her marital status excluded her from many jobs and even the ones she was eligible for had two salary rates published. The same position description with the same responsibilities had a male rate and a (lower) female rate. She exemplified to me the qualities of persistence, determination, and application in the face of everyday challenges. 

So even though your personal and professional challenges may be different today it is good to remember the events and circumstances of others in years past demonstrate that challenges in life are universal.


Author: Catherine Heggen, Director: Planning & Urban Design

iwd 2021 cath