Women of Influence 2018: winning sport’s gender race

by Hannah Tattersall

Less than two weeks ago Twitter users reacted to a photo of the winners of a Billabong Junior Surf Comp in South Africa, where female winner Zoe Steyn was awarded half the prize money of male winner Rio Waida. As one radio host tweeted: “Same ocean. Same boards … Different winnings.”

Despite recent advances in women’s sport, pay disparity is just one area where the gender divide remains stark. Other areas in need of improvement include increased participation rates, greater representation in coaching and management roles, and access to equal facilities for men and women. Three alumni of The Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence awards, presented by Qantas, say progress has been minimal.

Jane Flemming, former Australian Olympian and director of Live Life Get Active, who was recognised as a woman of influence in 2016, said pay disparity would ease, and examples like the South Africa surf comp helped draw attention to the issue. But commercial challenges around pay inequalities needed to be addressed first.

“I do understand there is reward for revenue. I understand the commercial reality, but that’s not to say that the main organisations behind those sports should not be investing more in trying to bring up the revenue streams for women’s sports,” she said.

“If you had a look at the personnel or the HR or the resources behind driving the commercial success of men’s sport as opposed to those behind driving the commercial success of women’s sport, there would be quite a disparity,” Flemming said, adding that sports with men and women competing needed to ensure they were allocating adequate resources to the female sport to ensure it enjoyed commercial success.

Moya Dodd, the 2016 overall winner of the 100 Women of Influence awards and a partner at law firm Gilbert + Tobin, said visibility of women in sport had improved enormously, with children able to see strong, athletic women playing team sports on their screens.

Leadership gap

“The W-League, Big Bash, AFLW in particular have created female sports heroes for both girls and boys to admire,” said Dodd, a former national team player and an executive committee member of the Asian Football Confederation and chair of its Women’s Football Committee. “That’s a world away from the one I grew up in.”

We had also seen the first female CEO, Raelene Castle, appointed at Rugby Australia.

But research conducted by University of Technology Sydney adjunct associate Johanna Adriaanse Women in Sport Leadership, found women chaired only 7 per cent (five out of 70) of international sport federations in 2016, the same as in 2012, and occupied just 19 per cent (12 of 64) of chief executive positions, up from 8 per cent in 2012.

Lander & Rogers lawyer and president of Richmond Football Club Peggy O’Neal, a 2014 Women of Influence winner in the diversity category, said one issue was with women thinking they had to have played sport to have a career in sport management. “The skills needed for management roles in sporting organisations are the same as in any business,” she said. .

The gains in women’s and girls’ participation in a variety of sports were the culmination of many years of effort, she said, citing the Victorian government’s establishment of an Office for Women in Sport and Recreation as a great initiative.

“So long as the role of women remains a relevant topic in the public conversation, we are reminded that the job isn’t yet done,” she said. “We need to keep up the momentum: equality is the goal and we aren’t there yet.”

Dodd said that despite rivalry between sports leading to better competitions, conditions and resources for female players, women were still vastly under-represented at all levels of decision-making. She believed traditionally male sports faced a huge challenge to examine themselves through a gender lens, and set a path to equality.

“Even as women succeed spectacularly on the field, the figures of authority are very male,” she said. “AFLW is seeing this now in coaching. Because the women’s team isn’t a year-round job, it’s become a ‘gap-filler’ occupation for part-time coaches in the men’s game. As a result, there are no women coaches left in the AFLW. These issues are solvable, but it does take a deliberate effort.

“In the women’s [soccer] game, all but one World Cup, Olympics and Euros since 2000 have been won by a female-coached team, which is an incredible statistic. But nobody asks why men are so unsuccessful, even though they are over-represented at every level of coaching.”

Dodd also believed that because we were accustomed to seeing male coaches, male competence was assumed, “while women have to earn it, with their playing credentials under-rated”.

Role models

“This leads to an outcome where men can coach women, but women can’t coach men … Boards, recruiters, administrators and players are all on a journey to see this differently, because everyone in sport wants to reach the whole talent pool – not just half of it.”

Flemming, who coaches a junior boys’ basketball team, agreed, adding that role modelling in sports coaching was not as it should be. “There’s a lot of talk about role modelling for young girls,” she said. “Being the mother of boys I actually think it’s more important to role model for boys so they understand when they grow up – and when they’re teenagers, and when they’re at school – that these are the roles that women play and they take that as a norm. So women go to work, and women do sport, and women coach sport, and women manage teams.

“I really believe that while it is important, obviously, to have female role models for young girls, it’s also really important to have female role models for young boys.”

To enter this year’s The Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence awards, please go to  afr.com/womenawards. If you nominate yourself, entries must be submitted by Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Nominations for others have closed.

AFR Contributor

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