Tamatha Harding on The Motherhood Penalty, The Advancing Women in Sport podcast
Tamatha Harding: On The Motherhood Penalty in Sport

About Tamatha Harding 

Tamatha Harding is Head of Tennis Delivery and Culture at Tennis Victoria, and is on the board of Women Sport Australia. She is also a Consultant in Strategy and Project Planning, with more than 20 years of experience in the sport industry to inform programming, development and strategic projects for sporting and non-sporting organisations.  

In her time with Tennis Victoria, Tamatha has worked in a variety of roles, including Inclusion Lead, Project Leader of Female Participation, Special Projects Lead, Executive Manager of Community Tennis, and interim CEO.  

From 2017-21, Tamatha sat on the Darebin Women’s Advisory Committee, helping to advise Council on gendered issues and barriers to equality for women of diverse backgrounds. From 2008-12 Tamatha was a member of the Women’s Sport Advisory Group, which was set up by VicSport and Sport Recreation Victoria to represent women in sport and increase female participation. 

Making it Work for Women’s Careers in Sport

In her interview with Michelle, Tamatha walks us through her career in sport— from a young woman inspired by another woman in the industry, to becoming a senior leader and role model herself. Tamatha discusses what has worked for her, and what has not, providing important advice to women and leaders on what they can do to make it work for women in the industry. 

When it comes to supporting women in the industry, Tamatha highlights the importance of consultation, particularly when it comes to career planning. Tamatha believes, by involving women in conversations around their future with a company or organisation, leaders can avoid making problematic assumptions that are often gendered in nature, including The Motherhood Penalty.

The Motherhood Penalty

Tamatha draws from her own experience when she applied for the CEO position at Tennis Victoria. Without success, she received no feedback regarding her application, and so, could only draw from passing comments from those involved in the decision. Tamatha says, certain comments, such as “Don’t worry, your time will come […] You and your partner will probably have a family soon…” indicated to her that the decision may have been influenced by the assumption that she would soon be “settling down” to have children – an assumption underpinned by the fact that she was a young woman in a relationship.  

While Tamatha has no doubt the person selected for the role was deserving, and those who made the decision did so without malice, she says she cannot help but believe her gender, including assumptions about her becoming a parent, was a factor in their decision-making.   

Don’t Assume What Women Want

Tamatha says, in order to avoid making assumptions, women must be involved in the conversation, particularly when it comes to forging their own careers. For example, when Tamatha did decide to have children and was on maternity leave, her manager at the time made no assumptions around when/ if she would be returning to work, and in what capacity. Instead, Tamatha and her manager had a conversation about her plans, and how they might fit with the direction of the company. 

Tamatha says, it was a win-win for her and the organisation. By having the conversation, she was able to arrange flexible working conditions, and the organisation was able to retain a valuable employee. She is now an example of how flexible working arrangements can work, and flips the notion on its head that senior leaders are required full-time. 

Women Belong in All Places Where Decisions Are Made

When asked why it is important for women to be in senior-level roles in the industry, Tamatha talks about how women influence outcomes by providing a diverse perspective. She believes an organisation needs “constructive conflict” so as to avoid “groupthink” or “artificial harmony”—diversity among its decision-makers is one way to achieve this.  

Tamatha also says, women influence workplace cultures and facilitate an environment in which women may thrive. She says, there is “no point sending a woman to do whatever course if the environment that she’s going to come back into is not going to be conducive to her being able to use those skills”. Tamatha says, by having women in leadership, they are able to support and advise other women coming up the ranks.  

Women in leadership also become part of a network that subsequently becomes more accessible to women. As Tamatha explains, networks not only offer opportunity, they also provide encouragement for individuals to pursue opportunity. Tamatha uses the example of when she applied for the CEO role— had she not been tapped on the shoulder by a person in her network, she may never have applied. In this way, networks provide support and reaffirm our ability. 

Networking Is Working 

Tamatha says it is important for women to grow their networks beyond their organisations, so as to expand their opportunities for professional development. She says so much of her professional growth has been outside Tennis Victoria, such as through her role on the board of Women’s Sport Australia. Through this, Tamatha has grown her network and learnt from some incredible women in the industry. 

The Importance of Male Allies

When asked what leaders can do right now to achieve gender equality in sport, Tamatha talks about the importance of allies and expresses apprehension around the idea of “male champions of change”. She says leaders “need to ask questions and they need to listen […] They need to come from a position of being an ally, not a champion.”  Tamatha explains, the term “champion” indicates superiority, therefore perpetuating the very problem it stands to resolve. She says, “As soon as you say ‘champion’, it means you’re better than me, you’re ahead of me.”  

Instead, Tamatha says leaders should view themselves as allies so they may genuinely support women to succeed in this space. She says an ally comes from a place of understanding— they ask questions and want to understand the lived experience of those they are trying to support. In this way, allies avoid making gendered assumptions by bringing women into the conversation 

Call to Action 

Tamatha calls upon leaders to involve women in conversations, particularly when it comes to their future within an organisation. She says never assume, instead ask questions and be prepared to listen. In so doing, leaders show themselves to be allies to women, demonstrating a genuine want for women to succeed in the industry. 

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 experiences in 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.