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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 sports 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 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 exist. 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 sports 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 7, 2022

About Lisa Alexander AM

Lisa Alexander AM is a former athlete and coach of Australian netball. She played for the Victorian State Netball team from and coached the Australian National netball team from 2011-20. Lisa has also seen gold and silver medal success at the Commonwealth Games and the Netball World Cup, and has seen multiple wins at the Constellation Cup and Quad Series.

Lisa now works as Performance Director and Coach at London Pulse Vitality Netball Superleague UK, leading performance strategy and overseeing player transition from performance pathway to elite.

She also sits on the Victorian Institute of Sport Board, as Performance and Coaching Expert.

On Gender Inequality in Sports

In her interview with Michelle, when asked about how she came to realise the problem of gender inequity in sport, Lisa recollects a time when she was playing netball for Victoria and the Australian squad. She says the realisation came to her when she compared her experience playing at an elite level, to the experience of her then partner who played semi-professional football; he was being paid to play in a country football league, whilst Lisa was not being paid to play at, what was then, the highest level in netball.

Lisa says, there continues to be a need for more transparency around pay, particularly for roles that are paid out of taxpayer's money. She also calls for more transparency around the criteria and credentials required for such positions, and endorses the use of quotas and targets in order to progress. Afterall, Lisa says, sport is all about targets and metrics.

Lisa also spoke to the need for more diversity across every level of an organisation. She believes people are innately biased, which is why they tend to hire or promote people who are like them. She says, "We just keep picking people who are the same as the bosses".

Lisa says, exclusive hiring practices causes sporting clubs (and the like) to ignore a large portion of their talent pool, which ultimately has implications for the performance and progress of an organisation. Therefore we must take conscious steps to avoid bias, such as through "blind selections" in hiring, or by increasing diversity on selection panels to provide varying perspectives. In Lisa’s view, we should view diversity, not only as a moral imperative, but as something that should serve to benefit an organisation by and large.

Attitudes to Gender Inequality in Sport Are Changing

On a positive note, Lisa spoke about how she believes attitudes are changing towards women in sport coaching. In a discussion off air, Lisa once said she had hoped to one day be known, not for being a woman in sport coaching, but for her expertise in coaching. Lisa is hopeful that we are increasingly recognising women for their work in sport, rather than for simply being a woman in sport.

Her optimism may serve as a beacon of hope for the many women in sport who regularly deal with tokenistic attitudes that overlook their contribution to sport, as the focus tends to be on their status as a woman in sport. As Michelle notes, when women are confronted with these challenges on a regular basis, it is not only exhausting, but can lead women to drop out of sport or leave the industry altogether. When the challenge seems constant and unyielding, 'hope' may just be what many women need to hold strong.

Women Supporting Women in Sport

When asked about the tactics women can use to remain resilient, Lisa encourages women to surround themselves with positive networks – particularly in today's world where social media is rife with content and comments designed to discredit or disparage. Lisa says it is important for women to look for messaging that is positive, as opposed to messaging intended to discourage or defame.

Lisa also touches on the role of community sports, and says they should focus on serving the community and representing the diverse members of their communities. She suggests, rather than "ploughing money into player payments," money for community clubs should go towards improving the club. She says more money should go into providing food, training, and more opportunities for professional development for players. “That's what community sport is all about. It's about relationships, connection to the community, serving the community."

All in all, Lisa believes it’s a balance between taking personal steps to remain resilient, such as by surrounding yourself with a supportive network, and making far-reaching structural changes, such as improving transparency in pay and advocating for diversity across the board. She believes that sport is not just a money-making machine, rather it is the glue that binds us as communities and should therefore reflect the people it is supposed to serve.

Call to Action

Lisa calls for transparency and equity in pay, particularly in areas of sport paid for out of taxpayer dollars, as well as transparency in the criteria and credentials for positions across the industry. Lisa also promotes targets and suggests community sports redirect funds to support the community and the sport, rather than to hefty player payments. 

Listen to the Episode

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.