Gender equity in sport and business starts from the top, doesn’t accept excuses and requires good role models. These are some of the lessons top Australian business figures discussed at the Womensport and Recreation NSW and Fox Sports panel showcase, A Fairer Deal for Women in Sport: On and Off the Field.
The event, hosted by Womensport NSW at News Corp Australia, was held on June 16th and attended by a diverse group of sporting and business CEO’s, the NSW Minister for Sport Stuart Ayres, News Limited COO Peter Tonagh, Womensport NSW Board , guests and athletes.
Womensport NSW President Susan Horwitz opened the event, saying ‘Gender equality is not a women’s issue. It’s about leadership, diversity and performance’.
Led by Fox Sports presenter Tara Rushton, a panel discussion headed by Air Commodore Alan Clements, CEW Company Director Meredith Hellicar, Best & Less former CEO Holly Kramer and former IBM Australia CEO and Male Champion of Change Andrew Stevens offered their perspectives on the status of women in business.
The question of when and how the panel members’ ‘light bulb moment’ took place saw some frank responses. For Alan Clements, his came during a team exercise at the Australian Defence Force Academy, when he discovered the swathe of practices his female recruits employed to stay safe at any time of day.
‘I had to realise there was a problem, and that problem was me,’ said Mr. Clements, who went on to describe how it was the ‘little wins’ he experiences day-to-day – like male employees approaching him to ask about White Ribbon Day - that shows him times are changing.
For Meredith Hellicar, Chair CEW Business Employment Committee, it was the experience of being propositioned by her male boss at age 22 that propelled her into a distinguished career of campaigning for gender equity in the workplace.
‘When people say they can’t get women in, it means their recruitment process is flawed,’ said Ms. Hellicar. ‘The argument about risk, merit and not being able to find women just signals how deep the resistance is.’
Andrew Stevens changed the ‘equality of opportunity’ for women at IBM by making the recruitment and management processes more accountable, finding that ‘a diverse team of brains performs better. If the leader doesn’t recognise this as an opportunity to improve performance, the organisation has no hope of change’.
For Holly Kramer, accountability of the leaders themselves is also paramount. ‘If a leader talks about equality but allows sexual harassment offenders to stay, they have no credibility’.
Ms. Kramer also drew attention to the phenomenon of being ignored by male colleagues in meetings. ‘I thought I was going crazy,’ she said. ‘[I would] say something, get ignored, then another guy would repeat it afterwards to great applause.’
The opening up of questions to the audience saw poignant discussion from a number of the sporting industry’s biggest names.
Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver acknowledged the successes of the Australian women’s rugby team and the fast-growing female fan base for his sport but admitted there is much room for improvement in the culture of his organisation. ‘I am part of the problem, I currently head an all male executive team….. the invitation to change is one I accept.’
NSW Minister for Sport Stuart Ayres discussed his efforts behind the scenes to boost the gender equity of the Baird government, acknowledging that its downfall could hinge on the lack of women in the cabinet. ‘If it’s going to be, it has to be me,’ he said.
For many in the audience and on the panel, a recurring theme was that not enough has been done. ‘If people really wanted this to happen, it could happen almost instantly,’ said Ms. Hellicar.
One way this could be done is by using male role models. As Cathy Harris, businesswoman and member of the Australian Rugby League Commission, said, ”Men standing up and leading the conversation is a game changer.’
Peter Tonagh concluded the evening with the assertion that ‘This is the start of the conversation, not the end’ and suggested plans for a follow-up panel discussion in the future.
Womensport & Recreation NSW would like to thank News Corp Australia for their generous hospitality and the guests that attended the evening, in particular the outstanding panel. Also thank you to Tara Rushton for being the Master of Ceremonies and Kallistene Vihas for her work behind the scenes.
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