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Australian Minister takes on sports boards

June 4, 2010

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.

Federal Sport Minister Kate Ellis / Photo via

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.

  1. Rida permalink
    June 4, 2010 5:59 pm

    This is a bit strange to hear since it was Stephanie Rice who won 3 Golds in 2008 Olympics. And recently this year our 16-year old Jessica Watson made a trip around the world-making a world record!!

    At my school girls regularly participate in sports. The position of women in Australia has become a lot stronger in the last decade or so- with an increase in trained kindergarten teachers and child care centres to help Australian mothers gain some ‘me’ time. A lot of women who are not participating is because they don’t want to. I have grown up with girls who never liked P.E classes at school and don’t want to play sports.

    I honestly believe that this payment is arranged by the government to reflect the ‘Obesity Epidemic’ of Australia, as hopefully, Ms Ellis would be aware that 43% of the Australian women are obese. Indeed, increasing in sports participation and physical activity will lead to reducing this unwanted obesity record.

    There are also other factors that play a role in decreaded participation of women in sports, and one of the major ones could be of ‘diversity of cultures’ in Australia. Coming from an Eastern culture, yet being an Australian- i don’t know many Chinese or Indian girls participating in sports. Their families and they themselves choose ‘academic’ careers, rather than sporting careers. Nor do they ever bother to get involved in sports, neither are they encouraged by their Eastern culture/ community.

    So you see the reasons behind low participation in sports by Australian women?- It is these Eastern cultures and unwanted typical thinking of Asian parents that ‘girls’ are not to play sports- but rather have a family. I am sure Ms. Ellis was reflecting ‘this’ factor regarding Australian- women in her statement regarding ‘violence’.. ‘gender inequality’ and ‘discrimination’.

    Yet: again…a lot of these girls coming from Eastern/Asian families do not want to participate in sports- for example myself.


  2. Don permalink
    June 5, 2010 5:27 am

    I like the idea of linking federal funding to female board representation. Unfortunately, I think this is really the only way that female representation will improve. They should not receive any federal funding unless women make up a minimum of 40% of the board members in my opinion. They should increase federal funding as the percentage of women on boards increases all the way up to 100% female representation. More women would equal more federal $$$.


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