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A man’s world would be nothing without a woman or a girl

Celebrated journalist and high profile media personality Caroline Wilson says, “Sometimes it’s an asset not being part of the boy’s club.”

Last week I ventured out on a bleak, cold Melbourne night to Deakin Edge at Federation Square to hear Wilson talk about Tackling the Sport of Men. Unsurprisingly, the auditorium was packed. In light of recent comments from those water challenge incident commentators, Collingwood FC President Eddie McGuire, his Triple M co-hosts James Brayshaw and Danny Frawley, and Footy Show presenter Sam Newman, Wilson’s appearance at the David Parkin Oration for Sport and Social Change was highly anticipated…the event was booked out!

Hearing Wilson recall the old days of the AFL in the 1980s (then known as the VFL) when she was the first woman to cover footy full time as a young reporter (now almost 35 years ago), reminded me of my time as a player. Wilson describes the environment at the time as “a bastion of masculinity” – a sport for men, run by men, reported on by men, where what happened on the field stayed on the field. Sounds about right.

Speaking about her career as a sports journalist, Wilson noted she’d covered athletics, golf, even three Olympics, but was unaware her appointment by a maverick editor at The Herald would be controversial. It’s one that paid off, which would see her become Chief Football Writer at The Age, as well as many other newspaper, TV, radio and current affairs gigs and recognition though multiple Walkley Awards.

If sending a young female reporter to cover the footy was, in Wilson’s words, a “social experiment”, she certainly challenged it. Undeterred by being marched out of the players’ change rooms, being mistaken for a waitress back of house or seated with footballer’s wives at events, Wilson not only wrote about the game, but had a hand in changing attitudes. She says she learned more from the women in football who gave her the best stories, sharing their insights and analysis when none of the men were listening.

Wilson has paved the way for other women in the sports media and can now cite many more female colleagues reporting the game: Sam Lane, Chloe Saltau, Emma Quayle and Linda Pearce. She’s seen a slow changing of the guard over her time in football, culminating in the advent of the AFL Women’s League, to premiere next year. Wilson spruiked a genuine possibility that the next AFL Chair could be a woman. In a global context, she highlighted opportunities for women in critical leadership positions – Theresa May post Brexit and I’d wager Clinton over Trump.

As David Parkin reminded us, sport has a unique ability to cross barriers, influence communities and be a positive agent for change. Over the course of its evolution from a part-time localised sporting competition to a national league of full-time elite athletes, the AFL has also helped increase awareness and change attitudes on a range of social issues, such as violence against women, mental illness, same-sex marriage and diversity.

The business landscape in Australia has similarly undergone significant change over the past three decades. It would have been hard for me to imagine what the AFL would look like today as young recruit at Fitzroy in the 1980s. I’ve found being open to awareness, developing an understanding and mindfulness is a great start.

What mechanisms for change have you engaged in your world @work?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

A President, a CEO and a journalist were in a room together…

On the last Wednesday in August, Slade Group hosted its annual Footy Lunch. As usual there were meaty titbits from Caroline Wilson and plenty of differences of opinions about teams most likely, players least likely and coaches unlikely.

As MC, Laurie Serafini fuelled some good natured debate, but when it came to matters of football governance, the guest speakers were in heated agreement. This year’s panel comprised Caroline Wilson, Chief Football writer for The Age, radio and TV commentator, and Walkley Award winning journalist; Peggy O’Neal, Richmond Club President; and David Stevenson, the Western Bulldogs’ newly appointed CEO.

It didn’t take long for the audience of senior business leaders to join the dots: the best performing football clubs are no different from the best performing organisations.

Just like non-sporting organisations, AFL clubs are taking a good hard look at themselves.

  • The panel sent packing the idea that old football stars make the best coaches. Plenty of us in business have found that star performers in the field or on the floor don’t necessarily make the best leaders and managers.
  • The panel laid down the fact that gender diversity leads to better performance – in clubs and non-sporting organisations alike. Taking the lead from David Stevenson, ex Senior Nike Executive now boss of the Bulldogs, there were some sighs from both men and women in the audience when David said he couldn’t believe, on returning to Australia, that gender inequity is still so evident Down Under.
  • And whilst there aren’t any teams with elephant or gazelle mascots, it’s these two animals that are often cited as being reflective of the two ends of the corporate spectrum; large global giants and smaller nimble organisations. There is a prevailing view that perhaps AFL House has become a bit of a lumbering elephant, whereas AFL clubs are responding to new ways of thinking much more quickly than the ‘parent company’ and in turn have much closer community alignment.

Our panel concluded the clubs are better champions for change than the AFL itself on a range of current issues. It seems the gazelle has trumped the elephant and those old bulls are a little slow when it comes to learning new tricks.

That’s our world@sport this week. What are the similarities and differences you see?  We’d love to hear.

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Posted in The world @work