Monthly Archives: October 2011

Women in leadership roles in sport today

Australians do not get shocked when you tell them women are under-represented in leadership roles in sporting organizations. Sport in Australia has always been male dominated and still is. But in recent years, an increasing number of women have joined the sporting industry. Men and women have roughly the same number of participants in sport today. But when it comes to the leadership roles in sport the women are far behind.

In the Crawford Report, The Future of Australian Sport, from 2009 it is stated, “Women are under-represented in leadership roles, as coaches and administrators in sporting organisations. … Of the 350 identified board positions in these organisations, only 25 per cent were held by women. In another survey of the top 40 sporting organisations in Australia, only 13 per cent of executive positions are filled by women”. With sports participation rates for men and women being roughly the same, Mr David Crawford believes it is a realistic goal to have close to 50 per cent representation of women in leadership roles.

What is being done to reach this goal, getting 50 per cent representation of women in leadership roles?

The Australian Government started a program called The Sport Leadership Grants and Scholarships for Women in 2002. This program is managed by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in partnership with the Australian Government Office for Women.

When the program was initially started, the successful applicants would only receive a one-off grant. But after feedback from the applicants and some further research done by the ASC, the program got a scholarship component in 2008. This was first after analysing feedback given to the ASC from the applicants. They thought a one-off grant was great, but they felt they needed investment over a longer period of time to be successful.

The ASC has now taken this further, and the women receiving scholarships today are following a personal development plan over a three year period. The scholarships are for women who are already established at a reasonable level in sport. The aim is to assist these women through mentoring and practical learning giving opportunities in getting/attaining prominent leadership roles within sporting organisations.

The Sport and Leadership Grants and Scholarships for Women program is very popular. “The Leadership Grants and Scholarships program has been very much oversubscribed for the last five years. We only get $400,000 funding to distribute, and for the last three years  we have had almost $3 million per year of funds requested. This tells us that women do want to be in leadership positions”, says Linda Muir from the Australian Sports Commission.

Heather Reid, Capital Football CEO, agrees with Ms Muir. “A lot of women do want to be in leadership positions in sport”, she said. But she stresses that there are obvious barriers for women who want to move up in the system. Certain people have held positions for a long time, so it can be hard to get into these top positions. “You need to start planning and lobbing years in advance to get a position on the board of Football Federation Australia. Not every woman wants to be on a board, but we need to support the women who want to be there”, said Reid.

Capital Football launched a new mentoring program earlier this year. The program is for women who want to get into leadership positions in the football industry. It is evident that these kinds of programs are needed in football, which are dominated by men. Looking at statistic from Canberra, in 2009 there was one female head coach in the high performance program (HPP) compared to twenty one male head coaches. There were 74 registered female referees compared to 401 male referees, and there were five women and 14 men in Management and Board positions.

The program is designed to help women break down barriers they might face on their way to a high position in the clubs. Women are often overlooked due to the lack of skills. “MODeLS Kicking Goals” will help women gain the skills needed to be considered for a leadership position.

“MODeLS Kicking Goals” is essentially derived from the “Mentor as Anything” program written by Heather Reid on behalf of the Australian Sports Commission in 2006. The program received a grant through the Australian governments’ Leadership Grants and Scholarships program, which helped pay for the facilitator, workshops, conferences and courses.

The mentoring program is essentially for women in football. However, this year there were seven mentees, where one of these mentees was from a different sport. Heather Reid thinks Capital Football can do this every year. “I think five or six relationships (a mentor and a mentee) are manageable“, she said. She wants the women participating in the program to be in football. But if they can’t find five or six women in football she is open to include women from other sports.

Reid stresses the importance of having good mentors, and is pointing to other professions where you get a mentor when you are starting out. As a starting out lawyer, you always have a senior lawyer as your mentor. Everyone needs someone to ask for advice or debrief with. “I still have mentors that are very, very important to me”, said Reid.

One of this year’s mentees in the “MODeLS Kicking Goals” program, was Sigourney Dunk. She is very happy with the program and will stay in touch with her mentor although the program is now officially over. “It’s been good. I met five times with my mentor, which is Catherine Ordway (sport and anti-doping consultant). She gave me homework each time, and helped me with uni and work stuff. Catherine and I have developed a good relationship and will keep in touch”, said Dunk.

Dunk also thinks it is important to have good mentors, and feels very fortunate to have had the chance to get to know Catherine Ordway. “I’m very excited about learning from Catherine. I think it is essential to have good mentors and role models to look up to”, said Dunk.

As the CEO at Capital Football, Heather Reid is a person to look up to. “Having someone like Heather in the office, who is a high figure for women, is great”, said Dunk. She thinks that a lot of women are scared of getting into the sporting industry because it is so male dominated. “Having role models to look up to helps a lot”, she said.

Another woman who feels lucky, is Margaret Ritchie, president of the women only dragon boat club, Diamond Phoenix. Her club was fortunate enough to receive a grant from the Leadership Grants and Scholarships program last year. The club used the money to go to the Championships. As well as getting two of their coaches accredited.

Ritchie has experienced that it can be tough to get women to take on leadership positions. “I think a lot of women don’t want the responsibility that comes with a leadership role in a sporting club. Some women want the responsibility, but they feel like they don’t have enough time to put into a leadership role”, said Ritchie. She thinks that a lot of women put family first, which don’t give them a lot of time to take on leadership roles. “I think that the Leadership Grants and Scholarships program helps women. But it is still hard for many women to balance family with a leadership role in sport”, she said. So there is a way to go to make the sporting industry more family friendly. This will not only benefit women in leadership roles, but also men with families.

The Australian Sports Commission established another initiative on behalf of the Australian Government earlier this year, called Women in Sport Leadership Register. This register is going to assist getting women on boards and in executive positions. Women who want to gain a leadership role in a sporting organisation and possess the qualifications and experience required, can enter their details online in the register.

Since the launch of the Women in Sport Leadership Register in March, there has been over 150 women registrations. The register is for women who have gotten the credentials and some experience, but so far have been unnoticed or have not found a role on a board. “In our work with national sporting organisations we will say to them, when they have their annual general meeting, that we have gotten a whole database full of women who could really help you on your board, or in this or that role. We will have the sporting organisations search the database and encourage them to look for females that way”, said Linda Muir from the ASC.

At the ASC they are working to make the register better. They want it to be more than just a place where people can register their details. They want to be able to email all the women that register, and advertise opportunities that are coming up in sporting organisations.

As well as working on the new register, the ASC is developing a National Sport and Women Strategy. Linda Muir is in charge of developing this strategy document. She explains that this document has four focus areas: leadership, media coverage, women’s high performance sport and participation. In the leadership area they are working on increasing female’s representations on boards and in senior executive positions. Other than the two initiatives already mentioned, the Leadership Grants and Scholarships program and the Women Register, the ASC is looking to other countries to see if they can do anything differently.

One of the countries the ASC has followed closely is Norway. The reason for this is Norway’s quota legislation. In Norway all corporations are required to have a minimum of 40 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women on their boards. Nevertheless, the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sport (NOC) have their own statutory rules when it comes to gender representation on boards. NOC’s § 2-4 on gender distribution says:

When electing/appointing delegates to general assembly[ies], and members to executive boards, councils and committees in NOC and its organisational units, candidates/delegates of both sexes shall be chosen.  

The composition shall be proportionate to the gender distribution among the members, such, however, that there shall be at least two representatives from each of the sexes. This does not apply to councils and committees comprising 3 members or fewer. Councils and committees with 2 or 3 members shall have a representative from each of the sexes.

In special circumstances, NOC’s Executive Board may make an exception to this rule.

NOC’s paragraph is not as strict as the Norwegian legislation for corporations. But it makes sense to have a board composition proportionate to the gender distribution among the members in a sporting club or organisation. If all the sporting clubs and organisations in Norway had to have 40 per cent representation from each of the sexes on their boards a lot of the grassroots clubs around Norway would struggle. Many of these clubs are already struggling to find people who are willing to take on leadership roles.

It is not enough to put legislation or statutory rules into place to get more women into leadership positions in sport. That is why Norway launched a program in 2006 called “Kvinneløftet” [Lifting women up]. This program is targeting women’s elite sport. Its first goal is to have 3-4 female national team head coaches by 2014. The second goal is to have a 30 per cent female representation as leaders or coaches at Olympics and World Championships. These goals can be hard to reach. However, the man in charge of the program, Dag Kaas, is optimistic and thinks it is possible to reach them.

Working together with Kaas to manage the program are two women, Anne Grethe Jeppesen and Marit Breivik. These women are both former elite athletes and know how important this program is for female athletes/coaches. “We need this program because a lot of female athletes and coaches come from small sporting environments, where they are the only female. We need to support these women and make it easier for them to develop” said Jeppesen. She believes that one of the reasons there are less women in leadership roles in sport than men, is because women do not think they have the qualifications needed and they place higher demands on themselves than men. Kaas agrees with Jeppesen, and ads that men are usually more confident than women. “Many men says “yes” to a job without even knowing what it is all about, while women have more self-knowledge and think twice about it before taking a job”, said Kaas in an interview published on NOC’s website. He thinks it will do the sporting industry in Norway good to get more women into leadership positions.

As you can see a lot is being done to try and help women develop and reach their goals in the sporting industry. Australia is working hard to promote women in sport and increase the number of women in leadership roles. The programs developed to help with this process seem to be working well. But they are oversubscribed so they would work even better with some more money allocated to them by the Government. It seems like programs are the way to go when it comes to increasing women in leadership roles in sport. We need to support and develop women before we put them on a board or in a senior position in a sporting organisation. We need women that are qualified and confident in leadership roles. We do not want a woman to get a leadership role in sport solely because she is a woman. Quotas are not the answer. The answer is to build on the female community that is already there and make it bigger. Support and development are the key words.

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