I spent most of International Women’s Day at Facebook’s London Headquarters at the Leaders in Sport Diversity programme event, which was focussed on women in sport.
Throughout the day, I watched my Twitter feed fill with women sharing pictures and biogs of the women who had inspired them in life and supported their careers and I wanted to join in too, however I have a list of women and men who have inspired me. Does that go against the purpose of International Women’s Day? Or should those men who have been an inspiration, or mentor, to women, also be championed?
What struck me most about the Leaders event was a visible swing towards a dominant female audience. Men were few and far between and the queues for the ladies toilets stretched around the block – it’s never normally the case at sports industry events, and I couldn’t decide if that was good, or still not quite right, as I hopped from foot to foot waiting in line …
The questions to the guests, who included Rebecca Martin, Head of The O2, Joanna Adams, CEO of Netball England and Rebecca Smith, Global Executive of the Women’s Game at Copa90, were probing and the insights shared were inspiring. Perhaps the Chatham House rule imposed allowed those on stage to open up more, plenty of time for questions and by being a predominantly female audience those in attendance felt more comfortable to ask questions. [A study in September 2018 from the University of Cambridge found women two and a half times less likely to ask a question in department seminars than men in an observational study at 250 events at 35 academic institutions in 10 countries. The recommendations to improve the situation included avoiding limits on time available for questions, short answers and prioritising female-first questioning].
There were nine quotes that really resonated with me and I took away to share back with the wider team. Some require clear action by those involved and some are observations on society, business and how women are perceived or behave in the workplace:
1. We need broadcasters to be investing in our [women’s] sports.
2. We need to be normalising women in sport at all levels [coaching, executive levels, across departments].
3. Women see other women as competition.
4. It is our job as women to call out sexist behaviour and lazy assumptions.
5. HR wouldn’t allow us to use the hashtag #bringabloke for an International Women’s Day event as it wasn’t appropriate.
6. Women lack confidence.
7. Be fierce [a reference I took to Susan Scott’s book, Fierce Conversations]
8. Make mentoring a commitment and not an initiative.
9. It’s about allies – find both men and women to be allies.
And yesterday I was at BT for the Sports Industry Group breakfast seminar, where Joanna Adams and Nick Read, Managing Director for the Vitality Programme were questioned by James Pearce to a very balanced gender-split audience. Joanna is unapologetic about her sport of netball being ‘pink’ and for women and that was what attracted Vitality to create their long term partnership. For them it wasn’t about a partnership with the women’s team within a sport, as the male teams are always more well known and dominant. It was about taking ownership of a sport in its entirety from grassroots to the national team.
My main take out from both days was the absolute necessity for women’s sport to become sport, female executives to be executives and female sports stars to be just sports stars. This small shift in language will help drive perception both on the pitches and back in the executive suites of those in power. And it can’t come soon enough.
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