‘Getting women on board is good for sport’

  Sporting Compass: With Dr Pippa Grange and Paul Oliver

Dr Pippa GrangePaul Oliver

As a sports psychologist and founder of Bluestone Edge, I am fortunate to have many conversations with people about the substance and meaning of sport.
My colleague Paul Oliver also engages with people at all levels across the sporting sector to keep his finger on the pulse of the latest news, views and issues.

In this space each fortnight, we will share some of these stories, insights and possibilities in relation to people, culture, ethics and leadership in sport. I hope you enjoy the conversation and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

All the best, Pippa and Paul


‘Getting women on board is good for sport’

19 November 2013
Category:   LEADERSHIP – it starts at the top

It’s been a fantastic year for Australia’s sportswomen and our national women’s teams, with some wonderful performances on the world stage. This success was acknowledged last week with two of our finest, Kim Crow and Caroline Buchanan, sharing the top honour at the 2013 AIS Athlete of the Year Awards held in Canberra.

Crow, became the first Australian to win a gold medal in the women’s single scull at this year’s World Rowing Championships and was named female athlete of the year by the International Rowing Federation. While Buchanan, became the first Australian cyclist to claim two world titles in two different disciplines in the same season, and was recently awarded Australian Cyclist of the Year.

Our women accounted for 57 per cent of Australia’s medals at the London Olympics (up from 38 percent at the Sydney 2000 Games) and have been doing a lot of the heavy hitting since then, with swimmer Cate Campbell, C1 Slalom canoeist Jessica Fox and Taekwondo athlete Carmen Marton all joining Buchanan and Fox in becoming world champions this year.

Our women’s national teams have also produced some standout performances, including our women cricketers, the Southern Stars, winning the One-Day and Twenty20 World Cups, and our women’s rugby league team, the Jillaroos, winning the Rugby League World Cup. I was fortunate enough to be in the crowd in Melbourne in October to witness our national women’s netball team, the Diamonds, win the Constellation Cup over arch-rivals, the Silver Ferns from New Zealand. Anyone who was there that night would attest that you would have to go a long way to witness greater courage, toughness and athleticism on display in any sporting forum, anywhere in the world.

While the performance side of women’s sport continues to delight and inspire, there are many aspects that continue to bewilder and disappoint. Take the continued lack of coverage of women’ sport in our mainstream media for example. A 2010 Government report Towards a Level Playing Field: sport and gender in Australian media highlighted how, despite the ongoing successes of female athletes and improvements over the past decade in media coverage, male sport and athletes still receive disproportionately more coverage when national and international success, spectatorship and participation rates are taken into account.

Rationalizations that women’s sport is less exciting, less entertaining equate to an argument that they are worth less all round. I suggest that women’s sport is simply less exposed, less engineered for the camera and less available because not enough people are making a decent investment in changing that.

To compound this, our television networks have no issue at present giving significant free-to-air coverage of lingerie-clad players in the Legend Football League ahead of other women’s sports. Capital Football chief Heather Reid also makes the point: ”Is it sport or is it simply sexual gratification for an audience who would normally go to a strip club and see something similar?” 1

The most recent ABS data shows that rates for men and women participating in sport or physical recreation are close to equal, however, there is still very poor representation from women at the board or senior management level in sport. The glass ceilings on our sports stadiums are still very firmly in place.

I was disappointed (although not surprised) by the figures for women on boards for National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) in the recently released 2013 Boardroom Diversity Index. As of January this year, there were 386 directors on 55 funded NSOs of which 94, or 24.4 per cent, were women. This represents a one percent increase from 2012. Nine per cent of Presidents and 20 percent of CEOs were female in 2013. The only good news was the number of NSOs without a female on the board decreased from 11 to five. 2

That these statistics still exist in this day and age is staggering. As Australian Womensport and Recreation Association (AWRA) President Janice Crosswhite says “Breaking down the barriers to allow more women to be appointed to boards isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s good for business”.3 There is ample evidence that diversity on boards leads to better corporate performance. A report by McKinsey & Co, The Business of Empowering Women, shows that gender-balanced executive committees have a 56% higher operating profit than companies with male-only committees. McKinsey also found that companies with three or more women in top positions scored higher than their peers in an index of organisational health.

The federal Government has set a target of a minimum of 40 per cent of Commonwealth Boards being female by 2015. In March this year, the Australian Sports Commission also announced that the boards of the 55 funded NSOs would be required to meet a 40 percent target of female directors as part of a comprehensive governance review. Sports’ progress on meeting these targets will be required to be reported in the new annual Winning Edge: State of Sports Report. This is a positive and necessary initiative, and puts sports on notice to get the gender make-up of their boards in shape or potentially miss out on some of their funding dollars.

It seems like we have been banging the same drum on these issues for years and years and change is glacially slow. If sport is to be truly representative of and for women at all levels, then it is clear much is to be done. However, it is critical that the action is substantial and doesn’t result in either platitudes or tokenistic efforts that further disengage women from the business of sport.

Dr Pippa Grange



1 http://www.theage.com.au/sport/lingerieclad-players-of-legends-football-league-win-unfair-coverage-20131115-2xmpx.html#ixzz2kyE3kRud

2 http://www.womenonboards.org.au/pubs/bdi/2013/nso.htm

3 http://www.ausleisure.com.au/default.asp?PageID=2&Display=True&ReleaseID=8664




Bookmark this page!
Read more about Dr. Pippa Grange
Check out the latest news from Bluestone Edge or visit our Bluestone round up for the latest ethics in sports stories from around the globe

Share this article

Categorized: LEADERSHIP – it starts at the top