OPINION

If we level the playing field, we can stamp out inequality

The rise of the AFLW is evidence of an increase in the recognition of and investment in women's sport - but there's still much more to be done. Picture: Getty Images
The rise of the AFLW is evidence of an increase in the recognition of and investment in women's sport - but there's still much more to be done. Picture: Getty Images

As I read about Sarah Loh's journey to becoming the first female chief executive of an AFL league last week, I was simultaneously buoyed by the resilience she showed to become a leader in her sport, but also disappointed at the unfair treatment she endured to get there.

Loh was lumped with many of the same questions women in sport often face, such as: "How can a woman coach or lead when they've never played *insert sport here*?"

But as an Asian woman, Loh also faced questions with an added layer of racism: "What would a multicultural woman know about football?"

Unfortunately, in sport, as in many other industries, women are generally under-represented in leadership and governance positions - and this is particularly true for diverse women.

A recent Victoria University survey, of 221 diverse women made up of current and former coaches, managers and board members, found that half of the respondents were unhappy with their leadership roles and many aspiring leaders believed their gender and background was a barrier.

It also found that a quarter of those who left the industry did not want to return, and that many women felt they were tokenistic to the organisation they worked for.

Women from different backgrounds, races, religions, classes and sexual orientations can sometimes experience multiple layers of oppression depending on the context.

In order to address these layered inequalities, there are a raft of practical steps sporting organisations can take to create welcoming and inclusive environments for women in sport at every level.

We know from the evidence that increased gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace not only improve productivity and economic growth, it also increases organisational performance and enhances companies' abilities to attract talent and retain employees.

Promoting gender equality, diversity and inclusion within national sporting organisations isn't just about increased participation in the game - though that is an incredibly important part of the bigger picture.

There are still many areas in sport where women, and particularly diverse women, are under-represented, such as within the administration of leagues and teams.

In recent years, national sporting organisations across the country have shown an increasing commitment to and engagement in the promotion of gender equality and respect to prevent violence against all women.

Recognising their profile and influence, they have taken active steps to address the drivers of violence and inequality, including through education and awareness-raising programs such as Carlton Respects.

An increase in the recognition of and investment in women's sport is also evidenced by the establishment of the Champions of Change Coalition, the AFLW and the rise of women's cricket.

Our Watch aims to support, guide, resource, build capacity and empower national sporting organisations to take the lead in conducting this challenging but important work themselves.

Our Watch is currently working with the Australian Football League (AFL), the National Rugby League (NRL), Football Federation Australia (FFA), Rugby Australia (RA) and Netball Australia (NA) to ensure women have equal opportunities for recruitment, retention, promotion and, importantly, opportunities to move into senior leadership roles within sporting organisations.

Sport has an influence way beyond the field, court or green on which it is played, and it provides an opportunity to set and reinforce positive community standards.

We need to change the rules and level the playing field, so we can stamp out disrespect and inequality from the top down.

While resilience is a great strength to possess as a leader, women of colour, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women or those from refugee and migrant backgrounds shouldn't be required to wear such a thick set of armour to simply work in sport.

Surely respect, equality and safety for all is not too much to ask for.

  • Patty Kinnersly is chief executive of Our Watch, a not-for-profit which works to prevent violence against women and children.
This story If we level the playing field, we can stamp out inequality first appeared on The Canberra Times.