Should New Zealand’s sports organisations not have women making up at least 40% of their governance at all levels (local, regional and national) by 2021, they risk facing funding repercussions. It’s well-publicised that we don’t have a lot of women on boards in New Zealand in any industry, especially so in sports, which has historically been a boys club.
So now, we’re going to see more women on sporting boards in New Zealand, which is great. When I look to a board, and I see a woman, call me naive, but I believe she’s there on her merits. Because I know what women are capable of – and that’s anything a male is capable of in the corporate world, and beyond. A calm, clear head, with a proven track record in their field, and a desire to use collaborative approaches to achieve the best outcomes for an organisation.
Those qualities aren’t exclusive to a Y chromosome.
Women add value in other ways, too. Generally, we think differently from men, we work differently, we see life through a different lens. Of course, that’s all on a continuum – we’re not all the same – but in a sporting world actively promoting girls’ participation and professional sporting outcomes for women, having a few at the table, with a voice, is key.
‘With a voice’ is imperative in that statement. It’s no longer enough to just have a seat at the table, women need to be heard. I guess that’s where my uneasiness around the quota idea comes from. If I knew I was on a board solely to tick a box, I would feel like I hadn’t earned my spot. And perhaps it’s a female inferiority complex thing, but I would be sitting there thinking that all the men in the room thought exactly the same thing.
The quota system gets more women in the boardroom, yes. But they’re not necessarily there on merit. They might be the most deserving female out of the bunch, but with a quota system to fill, is it guaranteed she’s being appointed as the best person for the job? Or just the best woman for the job?
I feel like a concept can be both right and wrong at the same time. The negative feedback I’ve read is not that people don’t want women on boards at all (perhaps I’ve not been lurking in the Stuff comments enough), more so that including a woman because they have to is potentially stopping a more qualified man. And let’s be honest. Yes, women can do anything, but so can men. And sometimes, a man can be more qualified for a position than a woman. We’re just in this situation because men have had more opportunities (or had all the opportunities for a long time).
Of course, there’s an element of ‘what you can see, you can be’ about this. As a women who loves sport, attempting to thrive in the corporate world within the industry, I look to people like Dr Farah Palmer (rugby), Raelene Castle (netball, rugby league, rugby union) and Johanna Wood (football) as torchbearers. It’s possible to get to senior leadership within sports which have traditionally been male-dominated. The New Zealand Cricket board now has over 40% women, following a relatively damning report on the state of the women’s game. It’s possible.
Here’s an anecdote on a much less serious scale. In my later teen years, I got down to the final two of a sporting scholarship. I’d had a great season, nailed the multi-stage interview process and felt excited that I had a 50% chance of the scholarship. I eventually got a phone call saying I hadn’t been successful. Which hurt, but was always a possibility. What came next was the killer blow. I was flat out told that I wasn’t ever being seriously considered, because all involved knew the potential return of the young male cricketer was higher than mine, but they all “saw the value” of including a girl in the process.
And at that time, they were probably right. Women’s cricket wasn’t as prominent as it is now, and if the scholarship sponsor wanted headlines from their player, they were less likely to get them from me. But to have essentially been a placebo in the whole experience was disheartening. Perhaps I’m soured by that experience, but since then, being part of a quota sits uncomfortably for me. To have invested time and effort, only to be viewed the whole time as not a legitimate contender, there to show they were doing the right thing – that has never sat well with me.
I’m older and wiser now, and I think, if a position on a sports board was offered to me as part of a quota system, I’d still take it. Because I do believe that token representation is better than no representation. Because token representation has the opportunity to morph into legitimacy. It would be nice not have to use the term ‘representation’ at all – and just have it commonly accepted that women, Maori and Pacific peoples, and wider cultural and ethnic inclusion is standard.
But, you’d be remiss to think I’m not walking in there with a chip on my shoulder, calling out the quota and telling them I’m not here to wear heels and look pretty. I’m there to contribute. I’m using my voice to show that women are qualified, viable and worthy.
And no doubt bathe in the tears of threatened males.
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