Emily McKie: Why Women in Sport Experience Burn Out
Shelley Ware: About The Intersection of Race and Gender in Sport

About Shelley Ware

Shelley Ware discusses the intersection of race and gender in sport and the media on this episode of The Advancing Women in Sport podcast. Shelley is a media personality, professional speaker, educator and consultant. Shelley hosts her own Facebook show Ware2Now? and appears regularly on Broad Radio. She is also a member of the Outer Sanctum podcast and writer for the Koori Mail. 

Shelley is well known for her part in Marngrooka ground-breaking football program, and as host of webshow Colour of Your Jumper. In 2019, Shelley was named Essendon Womens Fujitsu General Football Woman of the Year. 

Shelley is also a teacher, hosting workshops on Aboriginal history, culture and art in primary and secondary schools around Australia. She also works as a consultant, teaching and upskilling leaders and educators in Aboriginal history and culture. Shelley is passionate about embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture in classrooms and the national curriculum. 

The Intersection of Race and Gender in the Media

Shelley’s story sheds light on the importance of having diverse representation in media and gives meaning to the phrase, “you can’t be what you can’t see”. For example, Shelley says she feels a great sense of accomplishment when other Aboriginal people approach her to say, “I saw you on television when I was a kid, and I knew the world was going to get better […] I just knew there was going to be a space for me when I grew up.” 

In her interview with Michelle, Shelley also talks about discrimination, particularly in the form of sexism and racism. Shelley discusses recent discrimination she experienced on social media, and how it prompted her to write an open letter to the Commonwealth Attorney-General.  

Together with Dr. Kate Seer, Shelley wrote to Attorney-General, Christian Porter, asking for legal and policy reform to prevent online racism and improve cyber-safety. Following positive reception of the letter, Porter spoke to the media, condemning racism and admitting there is a growing need for online behaviour to be treated under the same rules that exist outside the internet. 

Shelley says, for a long time in her career she put up with discrimination. She recalls one example of sexism whereby a man refused to sit next to her on a panel. She says, “One of our co-hosts left because he refused to sit next to a woman full-time on the panel and talk about football”. 

The Intersection of Race and Gender in Society

After years of work in environments that permit sexism and racism, Shelley says she has become more vocal, as she fights to create a better world for generations to come. She says, when she was younger, she did not speak up, and instead tried to “fit in”. She says, “I felt like I was selling myself out. I was selling out the next generation.” 

When asked what she would tell the next generation of young women aspiring to work in media, Shelley suggests upskilling through coursework, particularly if you are not already part of strong networks into media. She also suggests putting yourself out there by utilising social media.

Shelley also suggests finding a mentor who will provide reliable feedback, and says you must allow your mentor the space to be honest. She says it can be particularly challenging for Aboriginal people to find a mentor who is willing to provide open and honest feedback, as non-Aboriginal people in particular may hesitate to be openly critical of Aboriginal people. 

When asked how mentors can generate a space in which they feel comfortable to provide constructive feedback, Shelley says, lay out your terms at the beginning. She says, tell the person who you will mentor, “this is how it’s going to look. You may hear things that you don’t want to hear […] And it will be brutal at times”. 

Shelley also calls for leaders in media to create more opportunities for diverse people, so as what we see in media resembles what we see in reality. She says, “We need to make sure that our cultures are represented, our people are represented, from all walks of life.” She says this is not only necessary for true reconciliation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is also necessary for all minority groups to feel included.

The Intersection of Race and Gender in the Workplace

Shelley says, in particular, Aboriginal people struggle to gain employment in this space due to misconceptions generated by the media. She says Aboriginal people are negatively portrayed in the media as unintelligent and unreliable, making them undesirable candidates for work. 

Shelley says Aboriginal people have an added layer of disadvantage when organisations fail to integrate cultural practices into their contracts. This makes it difficult for Aboriginal people who are required to take time off for cultural events or practices to participate in work, and otherwise forces them to assimilate to dominant ways of working. Shelley says, “Do something about it. Make it part of their contract […] acknowledge that it is part of the Aboriginal community. Don’t see it as a negative all of the time.”

Shelley says industry leaders can be allies to women and First Nations Australians by making the effort to understand their histories, self-checking personal bias or stereotypes, and embracing another way of life. She says, when we take the time to listen and understand the lived experience, we develop empathy for others, and it is empathy that drives us to make the world a better place.

Call to Action

Shelley calls for increasing diversity in media so that our televisions reflect the diversity of our streets. She says leaders must reflect on their own bias and actively seek the truth by uncovering the histories and lived experiences of women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. By doing so, they may overcome stereotypes and be encouraged to generate more opportunity for diverse people. 

Shelley also encourages young women to hone their craft, put themselves out there and find a good mentor. And to mentors, she says, give honest and actionable advice to women and women of colour coming up the ranks.

Listen to the Episode

About the Podcast

The need to tell the stories of women in sport and to create a clarion call to action to close the gender gaps in sport has never been stronger. The Advancing Women in Sport podcast goes beyond the statistics about women in sport so that all of us can become more aware of women’s lived experience n sport. We’re uncovering the stories beneath the stats….

In this first season, you will be able to hear the stories of women at different career and life stages, from different sporting disciplines and sectors within the very large sports industry about their lived experience in the sporting sector.

The women interviewed are athletes, coaches, administrators, broadcasters, directors and more. They identify in many ways and represent the many intersectional communities that sport serves. You can tune in via all the usual podcast services or at the podcast website.