There are many paths for women to become leaders in sport, but do they work?


Lou Broadfoot did not take the conventional route to senior sports leadership.

She started down the usual route, with a successful career as a national and international cricketer, including starring in Australia’s 2005 Women’s World Cup victory.

However, his day job was poles apart. She spent 20 years as a police officer and was even deployed to Afghanistan as an army reservist in 2018, where she helped train female leaders in the Afghan army.

Lou Broadfoot says the skills she learned during her career as a police officer and army reservist helped prepare her for her athletic roles.(Provided: Lou Broadfoot)

The sport finally returned last year, when she was given the opportunity to join the Mackay Cricket board.

Soon after, she became Head of Integrity for Tennis Australia.

“I’m an example of an athlete who played sport at a high level and then walked away for a long time,” she said.

“And I literally just fell on the board of Mackay Cricket. If it hadn’t been for that, I don’t think I would ever necessarily have worked in a sporting role, whether as a volunteer or as gainful employment.”

But as Broadfoot discovered, the skills she picked up in her non-sporting life were incredibly transferable.

And we hope her journey can provide a model for more women to follow.

How do the numbers stack up?

As the participation of girls and women in sport continues to grow, we have all heard the call to action for women in leadership positions to follow.

So, as the sports fields fill with many more girls and women, is the same true in leadership positions and in boardrooms?

The Australian Sports Commission provides funding to 64 National Sports Organizations and National Sports Organizations for the Disabled (NSO/NSOD), and member organizations are encouraged to ensure that women make up at least 40% of their boards. administration.

More than half of funded NSOs/NSOs meet or exceed this threshold, and there has been an overall improvement in this area over the past 11 years.

However, the same results were not seen in the number of female CEOs and presidents.

In fact, the number of women in these roles has declined in recent years.

In Australia’s major professional sports – including the AFL, NRL, football, rugby union, netball and cricket – it’s a mixed bag.

There are only two female CEOs: Christina Matthews of the Western Australia Cricket Association and Caroline Carnegie, chief executive of Melbourne Victory, who is the first woman to lead the administration of a men’s club in Australia’s professional leagues.

Football has four female presidents, there are four female presidents in the AFL, and recently Kylie Rogers was the AFL’s interim chief executive.

A woman stands in front of several television microphones and answers questions.
AFL customer and commercial executive general manager Kylie Rogers is seen as one of the contenders for the AFL chief executive once Gillon McLachlan steps down at the end of the year. (PA: James Ross)

Unsurprisingly, netball bucks all the trends here: there’s an equal gender split of presidents, and six out of eight CEOs are women.

When you dig deeper into the map breakdowns, the NRL performs the worst.

Only one club, the Canberra Raiders, is close to the 40% mark, and five of the 16 clubs do not have a single woman on their board.

Netball and soccer are the leaders in this space, with a much more equal gender split.

Cricket Australia board member Vanessa Guthrie said things were looking up.

“I think the most important thing is not so much fairness in numbers, but the ability to bring a diversity of thoughts and voices of women into the room,” she said.

Plans and programs to bring more women to the top

Sport Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport have been trying to bring about change in this area for decades.

The Women Leaders in Sport program has been running for 21 years and has seen around 26,000 women participate during that time.

A group of women are sitting in a circle and discussing.
Sport Australia and the AIS run a number of programs to develop women leaders in sport, including a current offer for executives and coaches. (Provided: AIS)

It offers different strands of the program, including leadership workshops, grants for people to take courses and training, grants to help organizations create more inclusive workplaces, and talent programs to develop executives. women in sport and high-level coaches.

Australian Sports Commission chief executive Kieren Perkins said getting these programs in place was crucial to accelerating the change needed in the industry.

Sam Kerr smiles and clenches his fists at his side
While more and more girls and women are playing sports, there is still work to be done in leadership positions.(Getty Images: Matt King)

“Sport, as a whole, has a lot of work to do to really understand where our biases lie, how we circumvent them, or set them aside and make sure that all people [who] are involved in our sports are in fact representative of the people we are there to deliver for. »

Sport Australia Chief Sporting Officer Brooke De Landre says it’s also important to look outside of former athletes when developing female leaders.

This resonates with Broadfoot after attending one of the leadership workshops.

A policewoman is crouching among the plants, looking at the camera, smiling.
Sergeant Lou Broadfoot had a 20-year career in policing before moving into the sports business.(Provided: Lou Broadfoot)

“A lot of the material we covered was about things like managing conflict, having a bit of confidence to be assertive, and leading small teams,” she said.

“And a lot of that was already quite familiar to me having spent the better part of 20 years as a police officer, and also having worked in the ADF.”

Shortly after completing the programme, Broadfoot applied for the position with Tennis Australia and now oversees child protection, anti-corruption, anti-doping, member protection and code of conduct.

It was hailed as one of the successes of the workshops.

Six people stand arm in arm, smiling at the camera, in front of large "AO" initials symbolizing the Australian Tennis Open.
Lou Broadfoot (third from right) enjoys his new role at Tennis Australia as Head of Integrity. (Provided: Lou Broadfoot)

“We have won some great victories,” said Ms. De Landre.

Fix the system, not the women

Last year, the former chief executive of the Australian Sports Commission, Kate Palmer, told The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald that a wider cultural shift was needed in Australian sport to effect change.

“For a long time we focused on fixing women, the idea that they needed mentorship, classes, a program,” she said.

Ms De Landre says Sport Australia is trying to address this issue by providing grants to help organizations embed gender equity at their core.

“We can work with individuals. We can network and bring together a large group of women to support each other,” she said.

The Australian women's cricket team celebrate their World Cup victory.
Cricket Australia has led the way in gender equity on the pitch and now aims to do the same.(Getty Images: Hannah Peters)

Dr Guthrie has had a 30-year career in mining and says lessons can be learned from it.

“The mining sector has changed dramatically, over the last five to ten years, in terms of including women, not just in the business, but actually in leadership roles and changing that blokey characteristic,” a- she declared.

“Cricket has followed suit and made great strides, albeit with perhaps a delayed start compared to what other industries have seen.

“It breaks the traditional mould, changes our language and promotes some women into those roles where others can see them achieve tremendous success, contribute to cricket, grow the game.

Broadfoot hopes to see more organizations adopt this ethic.

“[We need] all these little signs that we as an organization appreciate the contribution you can have, and how you can improve our business and how you can add to the disparity of thought and diversity within the business.”


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