Like many women who have worked in and around the AFL industry, I found Eddie McGuire’s comments about Caroline Wilson to be entirely unacceptable. There are many eloquent and talented journalists who can (and have) explain the impact of his comments far better than me. Instead, I would prefer to point readers towards the Richmond Football Club’s gender equity report. I believe that it should be mandatory reading for anyone who holds a leadership position in football, be it at club level or the AFL. (It is freely available on their club website: http://www.richmondfc.com.au/genderequity)
For context; back in July 2014, the Richmond Football Club released a report titled: “Gender Equity: What will it take to be the best”. The report was conducted with the support of Bluestone Edge, the AFL and the Australian Sports Commission. The intention of the report was for Richmond to better engage both internal and external female stakeholders in order to improve business performance. To do this they spoke to almost 60 interviewees within both the club and the industry to identify and understand the real and perceived barriers in getting women into leadership positions within the football industry.
At that time, I was an employee of the Carlton Football Club, and had been so for some seven years. For me, reading Richmond’s gender equity report was one of those “Aha!” moments. The report clearly identified themes that I had felt, but had been unable to articulate.
Former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, has since explained it in these terms “If you don’t intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.” And so it was described in Richmond’s report. Blatant and overt discrimination didn’t necessarily exist; rather, there was an “exclusionary power dynamic”. Women, on the whole, felt the need to adapt to the existing culture rather than the culture accommodating them.
The report went on to identify recommendations for Richmond to implement, with final reporting due later this year. One of those recommendations was to drive a Male Champions of Change program in the sporting industry. With the assistance of Elizabeth Broderick, they led the way, with Richmond CEO Brendon Gale as one of its foundation members.
The AFL landscape has shifted quite dramatically in the last 12 months with the AFL launching the 2017 national women’s football competition just last week. While I am in no position to declare which clubs are the most deserving of a women’s team, I was genuinely shocked to discover that Richmond wasn’t one of them. It is rare for established cultures to pull back the curtain and actively seek to change the status quo, but Richmond has done just that.