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My research into the conditions for women working in the Australian sporting sector began in 2017 out of a curiosity to go beyond my experiences and observations and to understand the reality for women working in the sporting sector.

With my background as a corporate executive and sporting director and experience as a gender diversity expert, I thought I would not be surprised by the data. On the contrary, I was staggered—the statistics relating to gender inequality in the Australian sporting sector were much worse than I had anticipated.

I was astounded by the gaps in sheer numbers and lack of parity, especially in pay. And so, I decided to go beyond the existing data, and conduct my own research which shed light on the endemic issues, barriers and systematic discrimination faced by women in the sporting sector.

For example, 70% of women in sport who responded to our surveys, believed their gender had caused them to miss out on a salary increase, promotion, or chance to get ahead.

Yet, while women working in the sporting sector tell me they feel disadvantaged by their gender when it comes to advancing their careers in the sporting sector, they persist! Why?

  1. Because they are committed to doing challenging and inspiring work
  2. Because they want to make a difference in the world, and they understand that sport can achieve this
  3. Because they are committed to helping their sporting organisation excel and grow

Leaders in the sporting sector generally have good intent and a desire to make a change for the better with regard to women, inclusion and diversity. However, the maturity of the sporting sector is low relative to other sectors, when it comes to initiating and driving enduring strategies and positive change for women in leadership.

That is why my research and this podcast exists. So that sporting leaders have a blueprint for action that is grounded in evidence and will the means to address the significant underrepresentation of women in leadership — on and off the field — in the Australian sporting sector.

I hope you both enjoy listening to the episodes and use them as a tool in your gender equality toolkit for your workplace - whether it's in sport or not!

You can read my first two research reports by clicking the links below:

Moving Gender Diversity from Conversation to Action

Tapping into Progressive Attitudes

Mar 28, 2022

About Emily McKie

Emily McKie is currently the Women’s Head Coach at the Monbulk Football Netball Club. She is also Project Officer for the Girls on the Move project— a project that serves to increase physical activity among culturally and linguistically diverse girls and young women in Melbourne’s south-east and she hosts The Coaches Diary podcast.

Emily has a background in teaching Sport and Recreation, and completed a Bachelor of Arts at Deakin University, with a Major in Sociology and Minor in Sport and Society. 

Early in her career, Emily worked with AFL Victoria as a Game Development Officer and was integral to the development and inauguration of the Eastern Region Girls Football League, which is now home to over 150 junior female football teams. 

Gender Roles in Sport

Michelle and Emily talk about volunteering in sport and discuss the gendered nature of how roles are often divided. As Michelle notes, women often occupy roles in catering and administration, whereas men more often hold roles that involve decision making and strategic thinking.  

As a coach, Emily occupies what is typically a “male” role, and so has enjoyed some of the advantages of working in this space. For Emily, volunteering has led to some incredible opportunities, such as to her work in developing and establishing the Eastern Region Girls Football League (ERGFL). She now has over ten years of coaching experience.

Assumptions About Women

Yet, despite her relative advantage and her many years of coaching, Emily admits her experience is generally very different to that of a male coach. Emily uses the example of a time when a fellow male coach proceeded to lecture her on how to coach, despite him having just met her and not knowing her extensive coaching experience. 

For Emily, it can be frustrating when people assume that, because she is a woman in coaching, she must not have the level of experience as, say, a man in coaching. What can be even more frustrating is the personal conflict, whereby she wants to address overt gender bias, yet feels it may cause a spectacle. 

Emily also feels that, while she has been open to learning different coaching styles and strategies by speaking to and observing the men’s teams, this attitude is not reciprocated by the male coaches. To this, Michelle highlights the benefits clubs miss out on when the men’s and women’s teams do not work collaboratively. Such benefits include shared learning and development, as well as an increased sense of inclusion for women— all of which can ultimately enhance club performance.

Burnout for Women in Sport

Emily also discusses what it was like juggling multiple jobs earlier in her career. For many women in sport, this is all too familiar, as limited funding and part-time contracts forces them to work multiple jobs to make a sufficient income. Unfortunately, this can lead to what Emily experienced— burnout. 

According to Emily, there were a number of factors that contributed to her burnout. First, due to the seasonality of football, Emily had to work the “gig economy”. For Emily, this entailed working three jobs to survive— she was the ERGFL Coordinator, Game Development Officer at AFL Victoria, and weekend/afterhours Sport Coordinator at Worowa Aboriginal College. 

Second, Emily was part of a major development in women’s football, whereby young girls were beginning to not only play football, but could also one day pursue a career playing football. Her role as ERGL Coordinator made her feel a great sense of responsibility, not only to the league, but to women’s football more broadly. She felt immense pressure as, at the time, she felt “if I don’t do it, no one else will.”

Third, due to the nature of football, she felt if she were to turn down a chance to work in football, she may never again have the opportunity. Overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude, she pushed through in an environment that she says can be “very unforgiving”. 

While Emily is grateful for the opportunities she has had to work in sport, she admits it can be a double-edged sword when opportunities are provided under organisational requirements to ‘tick a box’ or ‘fill a quota’. Emily says, when organisations do not have a genuine want to address gender inequality, it is obvious and can lead women to feel undervalued and further excluded. 

Find Your Allies

In saying this, Emily believes if you are a woman and you want to step into leadership, there are people who will genuinely support you. She says it is important to stick by your allies, men and women, and to actively pursue opportunities for professional development. To this, Michelle adds, it is a two-way street; leaders need to find driven, credible and ambitious women, and catapult their careers by inserting them into conversations and opportunities. 

When asked what clubs can do to improve, Emily suggests going out and asking women what they want and what their experience has been. She says, “The reason why women drop out of sport is because they don't feel like they belong, or they're being delivered a program that's so basic that they're not leveling up. And you know, you can address that, but you need to ask the question, what's going on?”

Call to Action

Emily calls upon leaders to go out and speak to girls and women. She says, ask yourself, “When was the last time you had a conversation with a woman […] in your organisation about what is the best step moving forward? […] When was the last time that you did research into what is actually going on with the experiences that they’re having? And how can you best support that?” 

Emily also believes clubs with multiple gender-based teams need to work collaboratively to create opportunities for shared learning and development, and facilitate a club culture that is more inclusive of girls and women.

Michelle also calls upon leaders to get to know how the gig economy prevails for women in sport and the implications of juggling multiple jobs. By doing so, we can ensure that women are thriving, and not just surviving in, or exiting from, their careers in sport.

About the Podcast

The need to tell the stories of women in sport and to create a clarion call to action to close the gender gaps in sport has never been stronger. The Advancing Women in Sport podcast goes beyond the statistics about women in sport so that all of us can become more aware of women’s lived experience n sport. We’re uncovering the stories beneath the stats….

In this first season, you will be able to hear the stories of women at different career and life stages, from different sporting disciplines and sectors within the very large sports industry about their lived experience in the sporting sector.

The women interviewed are athletes, coaches, administrators, broadcasters, directors and more. They identify in many ways and represent the many intersectional communities that sport serves. You can tune in via all the usual podcast services or at the podcast website.