The annual Sportette Summit for Women in Sport and Business was recently held on the Gold Coast. This event brought together men and women in sport and business to spark discussion and devise plans on how to continue growth for women in these two fields. Many speakers addressed the successes that female athletes have recently experienced, but also acknowledged the shortfall, and how far away we are from achieving equity. The purpose of this summit is to create strategies for how to reach this goal, we joined the summit to find out what we could do to support girls and women in sport. Here’s our overview of the summit.
“The ball is finally rolling, but we gotta kick it further down the field.” Holly Ferling, Australian cricketer
Sam Squires, Sportette Founder, shared some encouraging numbers. After the first two seasons of WBBL, 400,000 women and girls signed up to play cricket, 80,000 more than the previous year. NRL says women in sport is the fastest growing area of their game. And in 2016, before the inaugural AFLW, there was a 56% increase in dedicated female football teams, a 21% increase in total female participation, and a 21% increase in girls’ participation in Auskick (ages 5-12).
Looking further than the stats, the speakers addressed important issues and presented plans on how to overcome them. Some points presenters spoke about include the still-present pay gap between male and female professional athletes, carving a new space in advertising, and changing future social perceptions.
The pay gap While 2017 has seen abundant on-the-field sporting success, this year has also delivered many off-the-field successes. One major breakthrough is a step forward for one of the highest hurdles female athletes must face: the pay gap. Cricket Australia reached a new pay deal with the Australian Cricketers’ Association, increasing female player payments by $7.5 million to $55.2 million. This stands as the biggest pay rise in the history of women’s sport in Australia.
“If you want to play team sport in this country, you will make more as a female cricketer than any other team sport in this country. That’s a fact, and that’s something that we’re going to continue to push,” says Ben Amarfio, Executive General Manager for Broadcasting, Digital Media, and Commercial at Cricket Australia.
Although a major breakthrough, this is just one sport. Like Amarfio says, female cricketers will earn more than any other female athlete in the country. In general, there is still a large difference between the hours that female athletes work and the hours they’re paid for. This begs the question, what do female athletes need to do to receive the pay they deserve.
“Our rugby sevens girls are the Olympic champions, the world series champions, and they’re household names; three things our men are yet to achieve, but for some reason, the men still get paid more than the women,” says Sam Squires, Sportette Founder.
The pay gap, especially in professional sport, is a well-known issue that many are working toward correcting. Cricket Australia’s pay deal is extremely encouraging, and part of their plan to grow women’s cricket that Amarfio presented included further increases to pay. The objective is to raise the average female cricketer’s income by $31,000 to $210,000 by 2021. This projected figure excludes revenue such as domestic WBBL prize money and sponsorship.
Audience growth Another gap in the market presents itself in women’s sport: advertising and attendance. Squires hits the nail on the head when she says “exposure has been the key to the success of women’s sports over the last couple of years”. Screen time is vital to connecting with audiences and increasing participation, and there have been an abundance of female athletes on our screens recently. Without visible role models, how are girls meant to know the breadth of options available to them?
“I want women and girls to know that they can. That they can play rugby league if they want to. They can finally be what they can see.” Holly Ferling, cricketer
The great thing is that the concentration isn’t only on young girls’ participation, but on all kids’. “We’re not only creating pathway opportunities for young girls, and showing what’s possible; we’re completely rewriting the belief systems that young boys have around gender and sport,” says Jemma Wong, Head of Audience Growth for AFL, when speaking about the challenges she faced in promoting AFLW and expanding its audience.
Changing future social perceptions And the buck doesn’t stop on the sporting field. If women are more visible in prominent, inspiring roles, young boys will grow up viewing women on a more equal playing field.
“[Boys] see these girls in these elite, high powered, admirable positions. They’re not going to think twice later on in life when they have a female boss, a female CEO, a female board director. And hopefully, should it still be there, they’ll be scratching their heads and wanting to do something about the societal gender pay gap,” says Squires.
This concept filters down from screen time for female elite athletes, big company’s advertising campaigns, all the way into the local environment at schools and sporting clubs. Ipswich resident, Nikki Cox, 25, is a Health and Physical Education teacher and inspiration to her students. Cox is also a qualified personal trainer and has spent her life playing sport and building an impressive sporting resume. She says seeing girls play sport is teaching her male students to have more respect for females.
“They often ask me to race them or play against them in a team sport because it’s a bit of a novelty to try and beat the teacher. They have come to respect me as a female athlete and in turn respect their female peers and classmates. The girls are respected and valued members of their teams. It has honestly changed the whole culture of sport at the school,” says Cox.
Even the terminology we use when referring to male and female athletes is likely to change in the future. Adapting our speech from ‘female athlete’ to just ‘athlete’ might take longer than changes to pay and screen time, but it is necessary. Society might need to make the distinction, at least right now, but female athletes don’t think of themselves as female athletes.
“I don’t consider myself as a female boxer, I consider myself as a boxer who fights in the 60kg female weight division. I don’t fight the same as a man, and that’s not a bad thing, I fight differently. And I think that it’s important to remember that, as a female athlete, it’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different.” Shelley Watts, boxer
Beyond sport Shelley Watts, a speaker and mentor as well as a boxer, drove home the importance of encouraging all kids, not just girls, to participate in sport. Sport is so much more than sport, and life doesn’t stop after you finish playing. She listed important life skills that boxing taught her. • Decision making and problem solving skills • Planning, organising, and prioritising skills • Team work skills • Comprehensive communication skills • Time management skills • Strategic planning skills
“If you go and look on the Forbes website, the top 10 most employable skills, all of these are in the category. All of these things are things that I have learnt because of boxing,” says Watts.
Looking to the future, Squires acknowledges the hard work involved in continuing to grow women’s sport. One or two successful years won’t guarantee sustained growth. Instead, people who care enough to persist in making goals a reality will move female athletes into society normal vocabulary.
“Yes, we’ve had a few good years, but the hard work is ahead of us. We need to move beyond the feel good story, beyond the spectacle, beyond just ticking a gender equality box, and we need to be the norm,” says Squires.
Again, this isn’t just up to the big guns; this work needs to trickle down into the local level. Cox devotes her time and energy to improving future sporting pathways.
“I wanted to try and build up my local club and get more girls playing. We have since doubled the number of females at the club and have brought in some amazing local talent to play in our topside women’s team. The least we can do is make it better for the kids in the future,” says Cox.
Feature Image via Sportette Instagram