As much as major sporting leagues make all the right noises, board diversity is still limited. But the number of women is slowly increasing in the male-dominated sport sector
A woman may be alone or one of only two females on the board of a major sporting club or league.
Dr Susan Alberti, vice-president, Western Bulldogs, has been on the AFL club’s board for 10 years. It has three women on the nine-member board but Alberti is a firm believer that women have to earn that right.
"I would hope that we would have female representation on all boards of the AFL. But as far as I’m concerned it’s not just about tokenism. It’s about the best person for the job," says Alberti.
She sees respect as essential, if female directors are to thrive in AFL’s "blokey environment".
"We have a culture within our club that has always been respectful towards women," she says.
"We don’t always agree. We debate things all the time but the respect is there the whole time. We listen to other people’s opinions."
Her major personal challenge: The Footy Show ridiculing her boardroom credentials in 2008. She took a stand, sued for defamation and won. But it was a "very, very scary time", that revealed to Alberti the extent of women’s fear of speaking out in such situations.
Women can also find testosterone-fuelled board meetings challenging.
The media perception of the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles board was that it was "very fractious" with "a lot of personality issues", says Julie Sibraa, who became the board’s second female director last year. "I felt I would listen; I would try and be constructive; I would be calm."
"But all these things were more about my skills and competencies than just being a woman," she says.
Those qualities, however, can make it difficult to be heard. "People do tend to talk over each other; talk out of turn and have side conversations and I don’t have any time for that. I think everyone should be entitled to say what they think," says Sibraa
Both Alberti and Sibraa believe sporting club boards benefit from having women’s voices.
"I have much more sensitivity about how the club is viewed externally, and particularly by women who decide whether their children will play this sport or not," says Sibraa.
In any case, the presence of women throughout all aspects of the game makes a compelling argument for their participation in its ruling bodies. Women are a "huge" percentage of club memberships, attendances and in the administration, says Sibraa, and at the junior league level, many clubs are run by women.
Alberti, too, believes the growth of women’s football makes female board representation a "no-brainer". About 190,000 women are now playing and the AFL plans to have a female team for every male team in the league by 2020.
"So it’s an evolution and I think that’s why we’ll see many more changes on boards," Alberti says.
In other words…
Women are taking their place on sporting boards, but they’re still a minority.
Those who’ve made the leap say they’re making a difference.
They represent growing numbers of women participating in all aspects of professional sport.
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