Ahead of the Women in Sport Summit 2019 we sat down with Giles Thompson, CEO of Racing Victoria and Neil Gray, Participation Manager of Bowls Victoria to get their thoughts on the growth of women in sport in Australia. Both Giles and Neil advocate a holistic approach starting with equal pay and extending to greater support for participation and professional pathways. Here’s what they said:
What are the biggest challenges facing women in sport in Australia at the moment? Specifically women playing sport, either professional or amateur?
GT: Remuneration and the opportunity to earn the same as their male counterparts. In racing for example, women jockeys have the capacity to earn the same amount, the opportunity to take the ride may not be the same for them due to stigmas around female strength and capability – particularly when it comes to city rides. We are seeing this being challenged more and more as progressive trainers opt to provide women with opportunities; and they are enjoying success.
NG: In the professional space it is definitely equity in pay. The product is reaching or has reached a stage where it is both commercially viable and as attractive to watch as the mainstream male product. The athletes and coaches should therefore be paid a similar amount. In the amateur space it is definitely a battle to have access to the best facilities, have the competition structure they deserve from the governing bodies and have the pathways in place to ensure a clear journey for participants through the FTEM model.
What about women working in sport?
GT: Similar challenges to those working in corporates, as in the problems with the overall ecosystem promoting inequalities. In sporting organisations, particularly male dominated ones, this may be overlaid with cultural challenges and balance of power issues.
NG: Perception. Many, many decision makers in sport are still in the pale, male and stale category and I don’t necessarily mean in the associations offering these jobs but in the volunteer regions and associations who the women would have to work with every day. In many sports the perception is still that men should work in men’s sport and women in women’s sport. Indeed, in some sports, including bowls, the older generation actually actively encourage the gender divide!
What do sports administration leaders and sporting organisations need to do to grow women’s sport?
GT: Invest in women through leadership programs, sponsorship, mentoring, infrastructure, health and wellbeing and protection structures and creating cultures where women can feel safe and thrive. Look at all parts of the ecosystem from suppliers, sponsors, media, internal systems and ensure that they all support and promote women in sporting organisations.
NG: Continue to invest in the pathways to make sure there is an access point at every stage for any woman wanting to get involved in the game. Ensure that the sport is marketing the success of both genders equally and promoting role models of both genders in the marketplace.
How can Australian sporting organisations better engage women and girls to participate in sport?
NG: 1. Ensure clubs are welcoming spaces. 2. Have programs that are attractive options for women. 3. Ensure marketing and promotion is targeted at women both in content and location. 4. Promote female role models and tell their story.
GT: Normalise participation in sport. Make it more comfortable through environments which are conducive to women’s participation.
What is the best strategy to commercialise women’s sport?
GT: Ensure the business case for it is well articulated. This is the same for gender diversity in a corporate organisation – get the business case understood and the rest follows.
NG: 1. Engage with multiple partners to boost the reach. 2. Promote the individuals to share their stories. 3. Have a pathway for female participation. 4. Engage all generations of females.
Do sports marketers need to take a different approach to engage female audiences?
GT: Absolutely. What is entertaining for a male audience will not necessarily translate to a female audience. Sporting panels made of all males will not resonate with women – this spells exclusivity. Tailor to your audience to engage a broader female audience.
NG: I don’t think so but it is important to have female role models in all aspects of sport including on TV, the great work Lisa Sthaleker and Mel Jones do in cricket is a model to be followed and Daisy Pearce was doing something similar in AFL.
What role do broadcasters play in the growth of women’s sport in Australia?
NG: I think putting women’s sport in primetime spots can only be an advantage. As I said they also can control the perception of “curtain raisers” and make the women’s product the priority.
GT: Similarly to my last point, broadcasters can ‘set the scene’ through their comments, banter and boys club behavior. We need to ensure broadcasts feature a meaningful female perspective and voice, and they are set up to provide meaningful input. And importantly, that the structure of the broadcast enables them to have meaningful contributions.
Giles and Neil are joining us at the Women in Sport Summit in August to discuss all things sport – from boosting female grassroots participation through to cultivating elite pathways and programs. The event promises something for everyone involved in sport, from administrators to coaches to athletes to educators – regardless of skill level.