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The Role Of Women In Australia: Liz Ellis

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Liz Ellis is a retired Australian netball player, a member of the national team from 1992 until 2007 and captain for the last four of those years. She is the most capped international player for Australian netball.

Liz Ellis is one of the thought leaders participating in Ideapod’s launch, promoting the “big idea” of women’s rights in Australia. Sign up for the waiting list at www.ideapod.com to share ideas related to gender roles. 

Is there a key global issue or national challenge which currently preoccupies you?

There are several issues that preoccupy me on a daily basis, from concern about climate change to Australia’s unacceptable treatment of asylum seekers.

The main issue that takes up a lot of my thought and energy is that of seeing women take on greater leadership roles in our society.  My starting point for this is of course sport.  It isn’t an easy starting point! Sport at the elite level is very much a man’s world, from the playing of it to the administration of it to the broadcasting of it.

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I am proud of the fact that my sport, netball, bucks that trend, in that it is overwhelmingly played and administered by women.  Added to that the fact that the commentary teams are generally all-female and you get the picture that it is the exception that defines the rule.

The Australian Sports Commission is working with sport to create gender equality on sporting boards.  From sports like Archery and Badminton through to AFL and Rugby League, the challenge has been set for more women to be appointed in leadership positions – both at board or executive level.

There is an argument that these appointments should be made on merit, regardless of gender.  To be honest, that argument is one that helps to hide the sexism inherent in much of Australian society.  Of the people I know, its not like the overwhelming majority of men are more capable and smarter than the women – so why does it look like that at the pointy end of sport and business?

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Why is this an important challenge for more people to understand and engage with?

On a commercial level it makes sense to address this issue.  Keeping women out of the boardroom or executive positions – whether it is deliberate or inadvertent – is essentially ignoring half of your talent pool.  In any business that is a ludicrous thing to do.

On a deeper level, it is simply time that women are represented at senior levels of sport and of business.  Every woman that is appointed to such a position is a direct challenge to those who hold outdated and frankly offensive views about the place and ability of women.  Unfortunately we are aware that such people exist as many of them crawled out from under their rocks to show their true colors when Australia had its first female prime minister.

As the mother of a little girl, I want her to grow up understanding that talent and hard work will get you everywhere, regardless of your gender.  Unfortunately we can no longer wait for this situation to evolve – we must take action to see that it does.

How can we most effectively respond to this challenge?

Rather than simplify the argument to “if the women are good enough they will get the job”, sporting bodies and businesses need to change their point of reference.

Instead of asking why should women get a seat at the table, I would encourage them to ask why aren’t women here and how do we go about getting them here?

If you are a shareholder, ask where the women are in your organization.  If you are a member of a sporting club, ask where the female board members are.  Demand change.  If you are someone who makes these decisions, accept that it is a good thing and find talent you may have previously overlooked.

There is plenty of evidence that greater gender balance leads to a greater diversity of voices and a broader range of experience, which is an enormous asset in any organization.

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