Ladies and Gentlemen, Let's Back Women in Sport, and Beyond

What a night. Where to start...Well let's put it this way, I am writing that at close to midnight for fear of losing my thoughts, so you know it sparked something in me. 

Yes, I talk about nutrition...a lot....And then there is fitness....I talk about that too. But then there are all of the other things that you encounter day-to-day, that, usually unbeknownst to you at the time, shape that text book knowledge into something a lot more prolific. And it appears this is one of those 'ping!' moments. 

Tonight was the season end to the Canberra Capitals Basketball team, for whom I have been working with as their Dietitian for 2 seasons now. An opportunity which has been a safe space to learn and progress, but one that also scared the pants off me most of the time. Being in contact with national treasures does that. But it has also revealed a bit of a chronic problem with self doubt too...but we will come back to that. 

The night was a cozy and yet expansive. A cross section of players past and present all brought together by a single ball and the love of its game.  We heard stories of woe from the season, but above all that were more important stories. 

Most importantly, there was the story of 'The Dream'. A dream put forth by one of Australia's leading coaches, Carrie Graf. A Canberra legend who happens to double as a walking reminder to everyone who comes in her way of what more you could be doing- the kind of person that keep us all accountable. Graffy could sell ice to eskimoes, but her 'sell' is one of building up to equality and in womens sport. 

Then there was the story of 'guns Mcgee' Jess Bibby. This lady, recently crowned with title of most games played in the WNBL (394 in total, I believe), has not only earned her right to Canebrra's basketball hall of fame, but has worked her way to lead radio DJ at a gorgeous local grocer, making killer coffee's when she was not playing, is a small business owner and a top shelf legend. 

Tonight was a farewell and a chance to reflect on the achievements of these two leaders in womens sport. 

Where am I going with this? Well I was one of a few people privileged enough to hear these stories during the night. I walked away tonight firstly lamenting on all the things I could be doing better, but then turning over and promising to myself that next time I find myself not giving 100% or questioning my ability, that I would just pretend to be one of the handful of excellent women in the room. I am a big believer of 'fake it til you make it'. 

The problem is, that not enough of these legendary female sport-peoples stories are being broadcasted around to share and the is not where it could be. The room needs to be bigger and not done just when bidding adieu. There has been a great start in other sports, with the introduction of the Big Bash League, equal pay in womens tennis in some competitions. But then there is the cuts to broadcasting of womens basket ball- one very large step backwards. But the thing is these women are less likely to have their stories heard if their sports are not given the support to grow and become self sufficient and inform and inspire the next wave of female athletes. 

I hear the argument that womens sport does not get the same numbers to the game, that their abilities will never match males due to physical traits, that they are not as interesting to watch. But this is the small minded thinking that put the brakes on progress, and not just in the sporting realm, but across the board.  It's the thinking that is easily done, but means that progress and potential is missed. How do we know that these sports women would never reach the same physical ability to males, when a fair share of the time, they are not granted the same amount of time to dedicate to training, because they have to work a full time or 3/4 time job in order compete.

And do we need to compare apples with oranges? Tennis is a sport that sticks out as one where women have proven they draw a crowd, can be competitive and match ratings when able to dedicate the hours needed to excel at a sport. 10,000 hours (the purported time frame needed to obtain mastery) when working a full time job is a hard feat for anyone to achieve.

And yes, yes it is a different game to the mens, but when did different become a bad thing? Every athlete is going to approach their game differently, this is not a gender specific thing, so how about a switch from comparing to highlighting of unique skills?

To clarify, this is not a piece intended to rhapsodise on the inequities women experience. It's not exclusively females who experience set backs, its a universal theme across any kind of minorities, many of which apply to men too.  And I don't believe that anyone should be handed an opportunity because they stamp their feet. I believe that merit should be the key decider, but there need to be a period of bringing up to speed and a unanimous shift in what the prototype of a leaders looks like in order for real competition to occur. 

And to add, I have been lucky enough to have landed some of the best female role models in the land. I grew up with them, I have shared my harebrained schemes with them, I work with them, I sit on boards with them, I live with them, I do business with them and they are my best friends. I have also had the upmost support in every way from the males in my life, and I cannot imagine it any other way. 

BUT! There are gaps, suitably big ones, because eons of time has passed with the equality I take for granted, not being available across the board. 

So here I go, holding my breath and faltering somewhat as I write this. (And to be totally honest, I wrote the preceding line as a safety blanket in case I am that lucky that this get read widely enough to receive my first trolling) 

There needs to be an amount of structure in the creation of more opportunities for us ladies to get up on, before there is a chance of meritocracy becoming the default decision making tool of choice. Yes, it has started but faaaaaar out it feels pretty slow to me. 

I have too-ed and Fro-ed on this for a while, and this may not be my final resting point. 'bitch' needs to cease to be a term thrown out when a female is getting a job done, so too does bossy. If we want to get the other 50% of the population sitting up at the table, or lining up at the start line, we need more shoes in doors. And by this I mean, for more women to compete as professional athletes FULL TIME, for more women to sit on boards, and for a shift in the assumptions of what the characteristics of leaders are.

And I am going to throw it out there,  for this to be achieved, there needs to be a time where quotas are used, that pay is equaled, to offer up opportunities to get to the truly competitive stage. To allow for the luxury of time to build up the necessary soft and hard skills needed to lead. 

To be clear, I like merit. I like standards. You should be able to work hard and let the outcomes speak for themselves. However, I often find myself sitting across the table for stellar women who appear cut off at the knee because there has been no offering of that initial help. Or they worry that they wont be liked because of making any kind of progressive move or statement. 

I would like to think of this initial 'quota' type of period as seed funding really. The person is the enterprise, new, fresh and full of ideas and potential for growth. Put them in front of the right people, and have them backed, believed in, and you have yourself a winner. The ROI would be so compelling that investors would be flocking to jump on board. And we don't just need to apply this to women- this is an important strategic plan which could be rolled out to many, but just for today that's where I am pointing to. 

And yes, leadership is not everyone glass jar of cold brew, but can we just make sure that if it is, that all pathways a open to those who want to pursue it? 

What about that self doubt thing? Well that's as real as ever, but that is the part which needs to be over come by them individual and one which only can be over come with practice. But you know the fastest way to over come it? It's done by surrounding yourself with people who see your potential, even when you can't and who an provide safe opportunities to push the boundaries without fearing failure. By having good mentors. One with whom you can related and look up to. 

After tonight, I am more excited than ever to wake up and get cracking on achieving boss-lady status and even more grateful to have be able to drink in the excellence in that small space tonight. But it's now early morning, and I don't get out of bed for anything less than 7 hours sleep. But hey everyone one- here's to bringing more people into the room next time hey?! 



Harriet WalkerComment