Women on Board 

Next time you’re playing sport have a look around - how many women do you see?

Do women hold leadership positions in your club or sport? Are there female coaches?

Chances are women are well represented on the field, but what about the management committee or Board? Or are there more women serving food in the club canteen?

There was a time when sports leadership was the sole domain of men, with women mostly relegated to food preparation and cheering quietly from the sidelines. Thankfully, gender equity in sport has gathered momentum in recent times. In May, three more women joined the Board of the Australian Olympic Committee, bringing their number to five of the total 12 positions and, not for the first time, we have a female Sports Minister.

While the most recent ABS data shows that rates for men and women participating in some form of sport or physical recreation were equal, those numbers are not reflected in the Board and committee rooms of sport across the country. According to the Australian Sports Commission:

  • just 23.4 per cent of all National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) directorships are held by women;
  • 17 per cent of NSOs do not have any women on their Board; and
  • although some women have managed to reach senior positions in sport, they represent only 11 per cent of Presidents and 19 per cent of CEOs.

So, what do we do to open doors for women to take on senior management roles in sport? What resources are available? Why do we need women in leadership positions? How can clubs be part of the solution?

Play by the Rules has devised a short list of ideas to help your club or sport organisation encourage more women to get involved in leadership:

Diversity is a key to success. We can learn a lot from the world of business, where many companies understand that diverse Boards lead to better decision-making and greater long term success. Take the time to review club policies, making sure they accurately reflect your club’s commitment to anti-discrimination practice and diversity at all levels.

Regulate to bring about change. Like government, clubs can regulate the number of women who should sit on committees and Boards. Set a target above current levels and a timeframe in which to achieve it (e.g. 40 per cent of Board positions will be filled by women by 2015).

Recruit the right people. Don’t just give a woman a job to meet your quota. Actively look for women with the skills and experience required to fill a senior position. Create a position description and make sure everyone in the club knows what type of person you are looking for. Advertise! Let the media know what you’re doing. A story in the local newspaper might catch the eye of someone outside the club who is looking for a way to be more involved in the community, while also adding to her resume.

Find a mentor. A club or organisation run by men can be very intimidating and the absence of suitable role models may discourage would-be female leaders. Set up a mentoring program using successful women in your local community to guide the next generation of female leaders.

Provide practical support. Women remain the primary care giver in most families and the timing and nature of sport fixtures can make it a family-unfriendly industry. Is your club in a position to offer childcare? Perhaps there are other local sporting clubs or community organisations you could partner with to facilitate such a service?

Offer training. There is a world-wide push to empower women in all areas of business and sport, and a wealth of resources to draw on. Start with the Australian Sports Commission’s (ASC) Sport Leadership Grants and Scholarships for Women, a program which provides women with opportunities to undertake training to reach their leadership potential as coaches, officials and administrators. Womensport Australia is also a good resource and source of information.