Australian Minister takes on sports boards
Last August I blogged about Norway’s controversial move to promote women in the boardroom. More recently, Australia’s Federal Sport Minister, Kate Ellis, vowed to name and shame the boards of sporting organizations that do not improve their female representation. According to Ellis:
In a nation that celebrates our great love of sport, and where sport is a central thread of our community, the numbers of women in leadership positions in sport are clearly absolutely ludicrous. The culture of sport here is long overdue for a significant shake-up.
Ellis will encourage sports boards to improve their female representation by publishing their gender make-up, “so that annually these organizations can be judged on their progress.” She will also establish a register of women with appropriate skills and interest, which she hopes will help match potential candidates with gender-biased boards.
There is no question that appointing female board members will help Australian sport engage women and girls, make sport attractive to them, and encourage them to get involved. After all, what message does it send when women aren’t visibly involved at the highest levels? While encouragement hasn’t produced much progress in the corporate world, Ellis is taking steps in the right direction. At the very least, she’s laying the groundwork for more aggressive action, such as linking federal funding of sports organizations to improving their female board representation.
The Australian Government’s plan to promote women’s participation in sports isn’t confined to the boardroom; they want female athletes to be seen, heard and supported in the media, too. Ellis released a report, Towards a Level Playing Field, which examined the coverage of women’s sports and female athletes in Australian radio, television, magazines and newspapers. It also looked at how female athletes are portrayed by the media.
The good news is that media reporting focused on female athletes’ performances and results, rather than their looks or sexuality. The bad news is that horse racing received more air time than women’s sports (which may help explain why the Associated Press named two racehorses to its top 10 female athletes of 2009).
In response to the report’s findings, the Australian Government is investing nearly $35 million in raising the profile of women’s sports. While it’s difficult to gauge how effective this investment will be, it’s an encouraging sign. Given that almost half of Australian girls aged 5 to 14 don’t particpate in sports outside of school, now is the time to take action. Participating in sports builds self-confidence and self-esteem, and helps girls develop valuable negotiating and decision-making skills.
As Elizabeth Broderick, Australia’s Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, pointed out in a recent speech:
Women’s participation in sport reflects the issues women face more broadly in society. When we talk about women in sport, we often raise the same issues as when we talk about women in the workplace: pay equity; women in leadership positions; discrimination on the grounds of sex; the celebration of a male ideal and the marginalisation of women as the physically weaker and the caring sex.
[...] we should not lose sight of the power of sport to act as a catalyst for challenging gender stereotypes and violence against women, and as an important vehicle to achieve gender equality.