I was privileged to be asked to speak at a conference in Adelaide last week put on by the South Australian Office for Sport and Recreation. The themes of the conference were governance, diversity and opportunity, with a specific focus on women in sport.
It was quite timely given the Southern Stars’ outstanding success in the recent T20 World Cup, winning the title for the third time in succession.
The thing that resonated most with me is despite how far we have come with women in Australian cricket in recent years, we still have miles to go before we can truly become an inclusive and diverse sport.
Whilst we pat ourselves on the back for the progress that has been made in recent years in areas such as having a female Director on the CA Board and several on the various State Boards, increasing numbers of female staff in Australian cricket and improved contracts and conditions for female players, the reality is that women are underrepresented in leadership positions in Australian cricket and our female players are still underpaid, despite their extraordinary recent successes.
From a governance perspective, the Commonwealth Government has set a target of Commonwealth Boards having a minimum of 40% female representation by 2015. The Australian Sports Commission has set the same target for all National Sporting Organisations.
As it currently stands, between Cricket Australia and the six State Associations, only eight of the 68 Board positions are filled by females. At 12% Australian cricket falls well short of the Australian Sports Commission’s target.
It is not only on cricket’s Boards where females are underrepresented. Very few of Australian cricket’s senior management roles are held by females.
The ACA is not immune to this criticism either. Despite having four of our nine Management roles held by females, only one of our seven Executive members is a female.
These targets are not based on tokenism. The research presented at the conference showed that gender diversity on Boards is good for business. Data was presented that showed Boards with a greater number of women on them achieved greater sales, higher return on invested capital and higher return on equity. This is achieved by greater decision making effectiveness due to a diversity of perspectives.
When you consider that more than 50% of the Australian population is female, the current situation is, at best, an opportunity Australian cricket is missing.
Another learning from the conference for me was about an organisation that has been set up called Women on Boards. This company has been in existence since 2001 and has 18,000 women from all sectors and industries who have registered their interest in becoming Board members.
Whilst I am a strong believer in finding the best person for any given role, I would like to think that cricket could find some outstanding candidates from within this organisation that could redress the imbalance that currently exists in its governance.
From a playing perspective our female players are better looked after than they have ever been. The Australian players are now semi-professionals and our State players are at least no longer out of pocket for playing the game. Through the ACA, all female players receive access to education and training grants, paid game development opportunities and support services that are exactly the same as what the men receive.
This is a vast improvement from the days of players receiving notification of selection in State teams together with an invoice to cover the costs of traveling with that team for the season!
We still, however, have a long way to go before our female players are receiving a fair deal for the contribution they are making to Australian cricket.
Research conducted by the ACA in 2012 highlighted the challenges confronted by our female players in pursuing a cricket career. The key findings were:
o Players were committing an average of 20 hours per week to cricket plus full-time work and / or study
o It was costing State players an average of $3,000 per year to play cricket
o The pre-season of a State player was longer than that of an NFL player
o Almost all players (Australian and State) were paid under minimum wage
o Over half of the players said they would quit cricket early because of financial concerns
o A number of players lost their jobs because of cricket
o Over half of the players had to take leave without pay to represent Australia and their State team
o Their involvement in cricket was impacting relationships with partners, friends and family
The new contract structure, introduced in 2013, has improved this situation, however this needs to be looked at as a beginning and not the end.
The Southern Stars are a remarkable group of players. Once again I’d like to congratulate Captain Meg Lanning, Cathryn Fitzpatrick and their team on their World T20 triumph and all their success in recent years. This has brought great joy to all in Australian cricket, but more importantly it has raised the profile of the women’s game. In my view women’s cricket and its cricketers are now respected athletes in their own right and appropriately taken seriously in this country.
Importantly, beyond the growth in respect and wider recognition for female players, they have become aspirational figures for young girls interested in the game. As an example, the two Australian players selected to represent the Rest of the World XI against the Marylebone CC at Lord’s, Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry, are fantastic ambassadors for cricket. Skilful, tough, driven, determined, athletic and articulate, they are worthy heroes for any young cricketer and no doubt a source of growing inspiration.
Now is the time to capitalise on this success and focus on making cricket the number one team sport for females in this country.
This can be achieved through a combination of greater representation of women in decision making roles, greater focus on marketing and actively seeking sponsors and broadcasters to partner women’s cricket, and a better package for our players to help them not only devote more time to the game and therefore further increase their professionalism, but also to inspire the next generation of talented female athletes to pursue cricket rather than any of our competitor’s sports.