Womensport NSW and Fox Sports Presents: “A Fairer Deal for Women in Sport, On and Off the Field”

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“Merit is mask for bias”: Leaders on levelling the playing field – By Georgina Dent, June 17th 2015

How did Commandant Alan Clements come to recognise the reality of gender inequality in the workforce?

A team exercise. He recalls sitting in a room filled with male and female officers, most of whom were junior to him, where they were discussing the various things that the officers do to ensure their personal safety.

 The list of things women officers noted filled two large pieces of butcher’s paper. The male officers listed just one item: taking reasonable precautions to stay out of trouble.

The contrast hit home. So too did the fact the women said, as a matter of fact, they consider these things all the time. The men only thought about their personal safety late at night.

That was the moment Clements realised there was a problem. “And the problem was me,” he explained at an event hosted by Fox Sports Australia and Womensport & Recreation NSW in Sydney last night.

Clement’s was not the problem because he was a bad person or was propagating any threat to his female colleagues. But he was a male. And he had just realised, for the first time, that despite sharing an employer he and his female colleagues live in totally different worlds. It was his major “light-bulb” moment.

For company director Meredith Hellicar that realisation dawned upon her at age 22. Her much older boss pinned her against a car and propositioned her. Up until that point, her education and her family had led her to believe that gender discrimination and harassment weren’t live issues. Sadly, they were and they stillare.

NSW’s Minister for Sports Stuart Ayres, Kerry Chikarovski, Cathy Harris, Bill Pulver and News Limited’s COO Peter Tanogh, and leaders from sports spanning netball, golf, sailing, rugby league, rugby union, water polo, AFL and cricket, were among those who gathered to discuss creating a Fairer Deal For Women In Sport – On and Off the Field.

Susan Horwitz, president of Womensport & Recreation NSW, had a simple message for the room in her welcome. The subject of women in sport – on and off the field – presents all the same challenges and issues that are well articulated about women in business. And like the corporate world, whilst there has been progress, there is plenty more to do and addressing it is not simply a moral imperative.

“Gender equality isn’t a women’s issue,” Horwitz said. “It’s a leadership and diversity issue that concerns performance.” Fox Sports presenter and commentator Tara Rushton then moderated a panel discussion with Andrew Stevens, former IBM MD and Male Champion of Change,Holly Kramer, former Best & Less CEO, company director Meredith Hellicar and the Airforce’s Alan Clements. The discussion focused primarily on the barriers to gender equality and the thorny issue of ‘merit‘ which simply distorts the playing field. “If people really wanted to fix this, it could happen almost instantly,” Hellicar said. “The arguments about risk and merit and not being able to find women just signal the depth of the resistance.” This is ultimately about power-sharing so is it any wonder the resistance is strong? These are a few of my favourite quotes from the night.

  1. “Women don’t have equality of opportunity. Merit is often used as a mask for bias.” Andrew Stevens.
  2. “Merit has been gendered. When a company says they can’t get women in it means their recruitment processes are flawed.” Meredith Hellicar
  3. “If a leader talks about gender equality but allows sexual harassment serial offenders to stay, they have no credibility.” Holly Kramer
  4. “If the leader doesn’t recognise this is an opportunity to improve the performance, the organisation has no hope of change.” Andrew Stevens
  5. “The idea that gender equality will put the wrong people in jobs is rubbish. There are more than enough great women for roles.” CBA CEO Ian Narev (via video message)
  6. “Aside from attracting and recruiting more women, we have to recruit really good men.” Alan Clements
  7. “The phenomenon of a woman saying something, being ignored and then having a guy make the same point to great applause, is real.” Holly Kramer
  8. “The UN has a thing called He For She, but I like Me for She. Each of us has to make it personal.” Andrew Stevens.
  9. “Someone has to stand up and say it’s time for change,” Cathy Harris said of raising this issue within the NRL. “I had to use the facts to state the business imperative. But men standing up and leading that conversation is the game changer.”
  10. “Guess which is the highest ranking Australian rugby team in the world? Our women 7s team. Women’s rugby is the fastest growing opportunity in rugby.” ARU CEO Bill Pulver.
  11. “If you can’t get women in roles, it’s a problem with your culture or the way you’re recruiting.” Andrew Stevens
  12. “If it’s going to be, it has to be me” NSW Minister for Sports Stuart Ayres on accelerating the pace of change in the representation of women.
  13. “I started thinking about the little things I could do immediately to address the issues raised in my organisation. Things like how well lit-car parks were, the timing of events, providing locks, reducing the presence of alcohol. All of us can effect practical changes.” Alan Clements
  14. “If you aren’t getting substantial resistance from within your organisation, then nothing is really happening. Pushback indicates change is underway.” Andrew Stevens.
Originally published on Women’s Agenda by Georgina Dent, June 17, 2015

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