To grow the game of female footy, you have to grow the roles of women within it.

On November 15, The Championing Women in Sport conference was held in Melbourne at the MCG, featuring keynotes, presentations and panels from some of the industry’s best speaking on driving, not only attention to women’s sports, but a respectful and strategic focus in authentic ways.

Delegates such as Ted Johnson from the WNBA team the Minnesota Lynx, Sonya Thompson the Manger of the Women’s Big Bash League, Dr. Amanda Green the GM of People Culture and Performance at Richmond FC, Ellen Beale the GM of Community at the NRL and Nick Truelson the Chief Commercial Officer from the Western Bulldogs, among others, all contributed to a day of great discussion.

The conference kicked off with a keynote from Melbourne Football Club CEO, Peter Jackson who set the tone for what would be a powerful theme throughout the day. Patience is key.

Jackson spoke honestly and candidly about his own initial doubts and lack of interest in the women’s team his Club was forming when he took over as CEO in 2013, the first season of the exhibition matches against the Western Bulldogs. He was generally supportive, but wasn’t confident about the future of the experiment.

[Daisy Pearce (far right) waits in the player's race, to lead her team out onto the MCG. Photo: Getty Images]

He had never heard the name ‘Daisy Pearce’ before his Club selected her as their number one draft pick in the first women’s draft that he reluctantly attended. He was preoccupied at that event with the future of his AFL team, he had arrived at the Club at a tenuous time and women’s football was not an immediate priority.

Jackson mentioned that for the best part of two years, he essentially not only ignored Pearce, but the women’s team in general, still dismissing its value.

It wasn’t until he heard Pearce make a speech at an event in front of three hundred and fifty people where she completely captivated the entire room with her passion and vision for women’s football that Jackson took notice.

He ‘got it’. That women’s football not only going to be viable for his Club but was going to be the future for football. He also knew in that moment that in Pearce, there was more than just an athlete who was also a qualified midwife. There was the potential for taking her ‘passion, leadership and compelling personality’ into the Club to see how they could harness it to drive their Club forward into an exciting new female frontier.

Pearce’s role at Melbourne outside of being a Marquee Player for the upcoming inaugural season is ‘Graduate Intern/Trainee’. Simply, they didn’t know what role to place her in. ‘She had no experience in working at a football club, let alone in business.’ Jackson noted.

But that didn’t stop Melbourne from hiring her.

Jackson saw that she had the talent, drive and intelligence that would benefit his organisation, and he trusted that a role would naturally develop for Pearce over time.

And this was the resounding message from the presenters over the day at the conference in regards to establishing women’s standalone leagues – patience.

However, just because you won’t have all the answers from day one doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest now and bring along the all best people you possibly can for the journey.

Other AFL Clubs should take note of Melbourne’s initiative and look at identifying the existing female talent available and get them on board now. The roles that they will occupy likely don’t exist yet, and maybe won’t until year two or three of the AFLW when we have more information and research at our disposal.

We have an AFL league that has a reputation for limited opportunities for female administrators and executives and a high turnover of female staff. Additionally, when they do seemingly have the right women for the job, as Caroline Wilson highlighted in her article in The Age on November 10, they are still on the periphery.

We need women who are passionate and genuinely excited about the future of women’s football to be present for the beginning of this historic event, who may not have business savvy or a marketing degree or are able to coach – but are intelligent, are leaders, can thrive under pressure, can develop ideas and champion change. These women are already around us, they just need the opportunity, the invitation into the enclave. They need then the time to be captivating on their own terms and industry to embrace them as they develop alongside the competition they will help to shape.

Kasey Symons is a sports administrator, freelance writer and PhD student at Victoria University.


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