I wanted to know what holds women in sport back. I was pretty sure I knew. And I didn’t think I wasn’t going to be surprised. Because I know a reasonable amount about the sporting sector after all. I also know a lot about leadership, advancing women and identifying and removing the organisational barriers to women advancing into leadership. But I knew I needed to rely on more than my own perspectives and understand more deeply, what holds women in sport back.

I Was Surprised and Shocked

Oh dear. I was unpleasantly surprised to exactly what DOES hold women in sport back. The statistics related to gender equality in the Australian Sporting Sector were horrible! Women represent a mere 7% of CEO’s in the sporting sector as compared to roughly 16% female CEO’s in the ASX200 (which is also a deplorable figure for a ‘developed’ country!)

It is shocking to me to see the gaps in sheer numbers and the lack of parity, especially when it comes to pay, for women in sport.  When I dove even deeper into the data, I became acutely aware of the endemic issues, barriers and systematic discrimination women working in sport are facing. For example, 70% of women believe their gender has caused them to miss out on a salary increase, promotion or chance to get ahead.

This is despite a 2014 statement from Gillon McLachlan stating that the industry needed to lift its game and this starts at the top. 4 years down the track, not much has changed for women and diversity in sport in Australia.  So what is getting in the way?

‘We need greater diversity in our industry generally. I think to do that it has to start at the top, and I’m committed to a more diverse-looking industry and a more diverse-looking AFL.’  – Gillon McLachlan

Nevertheless, They Persist

Whilst women working in the sporting sector have told me that they think that being a woman is a significant disadvantage to their sporting sector career prospects, they continue to persist and persevere. Why?

The top 3 reasons why women persist in the comparatively tough sporting sector are:

  1. Because they are committed to doing challenging, inspiring work;
  2. Because they want to make a difference in the world and they understand how sport can achieve that;
  3. Because they are committed to helping their sporting organisation excel and grow.

The conclusion is that leaders in the sporting sector generally have good intent and a desire to make a change for the better with regard to women, inclusion and diversity. However, the maturity of the sporting sector is low when it comes to initiating and driving enduring strategies and positive change.So this is what is holding women in sport back.

Your Brutal Truths

The next time your organisation is preparing to submit reporting to the board, the executive, the owners or WGEA, ask yourself. Do we know our own brutal truths of reality?

Ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. Do we know our own brutal truths of reality when it comes to women?
  2. Do we understand the lived experience of our female employees, supporters, fans, sponsors or suppliers?
  3. Does our organisation have a winning strategy when it comes to women?

Advancing Women in Sport Michelle RedfernNot Just Admiring the Problem!

There is no point piling more research onto the pile that already exists about the poor state of the nation for women in Australia.  There is also no point in me sitting back and admiring the problem. It’s time to get sh*t done about gender equality, inclusion and the advancement of the highly qualified, highly talented and highly frustrated women working in the sporting sector.

With #GSD in mind, here’s what I’m doing:

  • Advice: advising Boards, CEO’s & Execs in the sporting sector (who are predominantly male) about how to attract, engage and develop commercially viable and sustainable relationships with women, I am ensuring sport will be more enduring and sustainable. Whether it’s  athletes, employees, volunteers, corporate partners, suppliers, clients, members or supporters, the industry needs to disrupt its prevailing pattern of thinking and begin to diagnose, design and deliver environments, products and services that tap into the female economy.

  • Leadership:  The Advancing Women Formula is customised to industry and delivered in various formats and durations so as to suit female athletes, female employees as well as being ideal for corporate partner programs and community outreach. This 3 phase approach involves business skills capability building, a curated alumni and technology driven mentoring program (the same one used by the Olympic movement)
  • Speaking:  I am not just a talking head!  I design and deliver really smashing events that engage the audience, of all genders, from all walks of life and business. I’ve provided this end to end service for AFL Clubs, ASX listed companies, Universities and professional women’s networks, including my own social enterprise which has more than 3700 female members.

I Know a Lot About Advancing Women

The truth in business is that it often takes an outside in perspective to help identify where the opportunity to initiate or accelerate a business improvement opportunity is. Sport is no different. I’m looking forward to continually updating and publishing my research and seeing the attitudes, sentiment and success of women, that work in sport, play sport, support sport and spend money on sport, change for the better. Because, we have all got a role to play in removing what holds women in sport back.

What Now?

  • Download my Women in Sport Research
  • Book a short telephone call to discuss where to now for your organisation.
  • Email me to initiate or accelerate your organisations gender diversity plan. 


© Copyright 2020 Michelle Redfern