Sport Suffers From ‘Gender Asbestos’

So says Elizabeth Broderick, Australia’s former Sex Discrimination Commissioner. She used the term to describe how male domination and rule is part of the sporting sector’s foundations.

It’s in the roof, the walls and floors of our organisations. “You can’t see it. Can’t touch it. But it exists and it’s dangerous.”

But, just as she has worked with male champions of change within the business sector to address gender inequity, Broderick has now employed the same strategy to the world of sport. She has gathered together male CEOs of our richest and most popular sports to look at our traditional sports hierarchy and how it can include females to be more than enthusiastic fans.

She believes that “if we want to create change we need powerful men taking the message of change.” To that end, Woolworths CEO Grant O’Brien, a male business champion of change, addressed sporting CEOs from football codes, swimming, tennis and basketball at Tennis Australia’s Melbourne headquarters earlier this year. Just as new technology is “disruptive” in the way it forces change in the workplace, he asserted that change for the better in our sports must also be “disruptive”.

There’s a long way to go to break down the barriers.

Targets for greater female representation continue to be ignored by some sports. Most football boards, in particular, have a token female on their boards. Broderick says that research shows that a board of 8-10 members needs three women on it to make a difference to gender issues.

The problem may be that coaches come from the ranks of former players, perpetuating the cycle of the “boys’ club”. We can all remember the eyebrows raised when Andy Murray employed Amelie Mauresmo, a former champion tennis player in her own right, to be his coach. His play didn’t seem to suffer from her input but the questions raised show how far we have to go in accepting female expertise in the sporting world.

Maybe tennis can lead the way. Alicia Molik will be in charge of the men’s and women’s tennis teams for the Rio Olympics. Maybe she can harness Nick Kyrgios in a positive way.

Where to now for Elizabeth Broderick? At the moment she is working with University of Sydney to work collaboratively with its colleges on improving the existing sexist culture evident in their operations, after a number of scandals over recent years. There is a suggestion that her next role could be a global one. She has been a passionate advocate for greater equality and her strategies have created the environment for continuing improvements. Let’s hope that the platform she has created during her time as Sex Discrimination Commissioner is built on in the future. It’s a worry that she has not as yet been replaced because maintaining momentum in this area is so important.