BLOG IMAGE Progressive Attitudes Women in Sport

Tapping into Progressive Attitudes toward Women in Sport

Life has been very very full here at Advancing Women. My work in 2019 has included working on the next Women in Sport research paper. My research on women in sport is part of my advocacy work for a more equitable, welcoming and fair workplace for women who choose to work in sport. I want sporting leaders to have easy to read, insightful and actionable research to advance more women into sports leadership in Australia.

My third report, due out in early 2020, will showcase the stories and lived experience of women in sport, from on-field to boardroom.

In the meantime, I wanted to give you another look at my second research paper, Tapping into Progressive Attitudes.

For those of you who aren’t aware, I began researching about women, leadership and sport back in 2017. In October 2018, I commissioned a survey designed to gauge people’s attitudes towards gender (in)equality in sport. The research was aimed at better understanding how gender has influenced the experience of work in the Australian sporting sector. This resulted in the second Advancing Women in Sport paper being released in 2019. DOWNLOAD.

My paper details how we gathered the thoughts, attitudes and sentiments of nearly 900 people from across the sporting sector in Australia. Respondents were of all genders, with good diversity of sporting backgrounds, including Australian Football Rules, Athletics, Basketball, Martial Arts, Cricket, Hockey, Netball, Rugby League and Rugby Union, Soccer, Swimming, Tennis, and more.


The data and insights we gathered were both informative and plentiful! Therefore, one of the challenges was to settle on key themes that would continue to inform and inspire sports leaders to take action.

Why? Because the needle is simply not moving quickly enough for women in the sporting sector. And, I know that facts, data and actionable insights are what will help sports leaders take enduring and sustainable action to advance more women into leadership in sport.

I hope you enjoy reading a précis of the themes from the paper.


We found that women were more likely to report their gender as negatively influencing their careers.

People generally believe women have the skill and experience to be in senior level roles in sport. Women also express a desire to advance in their careers, however women tend to feel there are not enough opportunities to advance in the sport industry.   

This perception is validated by the gender disparity in leadership roles and the gender pay gap in sport.

Gender Imbalance in the Australian Sporting Sector


The  majority of both male and female respondents were aware of gender inequality. Respondents not only felt that gender inequality in sport should be addressed, they also believed they are personally responsible for making such change.

In this way, people demonstrated a profound sense of urgency and accountability around matters of gender inequality in sport.

Women were more likely than men to believe gender equality is something we need to strive towards. Men were more likely to feel gender equality already exists.

Men were generally less supportive of gender equality initiatives, as they were less likely than women to believe such initiatives serve the interests of both men and women.

Gender Inequality Exists and Have a Role to Play


Even though our respondents held mostly progressive and egalitarian views of gender, change has been relatively slow to address gender inequality in sport.

Change has been slow due to low male participation and engagement in gender equality. We believe this is due to a combination of men feeling ambivalent and reluctant to participate in gender equality initiatives.

The importance of reassuring men that gender equality serves the interests of both men and women cannot be overstated. This research provides an explanation of why gender inequality is a social issue that affects and needs to be addressed by both men and women.

The paper also looks at practical ways on how to get more men involved in gender equality work.


Is political correctness at play when it comes to debates about gender equality? I know that it is vitally important for more safe spaces where men and women can voice their opinions openly and honestly. Without fear of retribution, retaliation or public shaming.

This does not deny the need for social sensitivity, especially in the face of diversity, but rather calls into question whether gender inequality has become a highly sensitive topic, and whether this is causing men to disengage from the subject.

The lack of robust and respectful debate about gender inequality means that true, sustainable change occurring is likely to be compromised.

For example; women were more likely than men to believe gender equality is something we need to strive towards, whereas men were more likely to feel gender equality already exists. How do we resolve this?

This does not augur well for progress given men hold the vast majority of decision making roles in sportbusiness and society.


The full paper takes a much deeper look at these, and other factors impacting women in the sporting industry. The findings of the first two papers have been discussed with many stakeholders and as a result, I urge further research into gender, women in sport and the composition of the leadership teams in the Australian sporting sector. Research must keep up with society’s ever-changing needs and attitudes so we ensure gender equality initiatives are relevant, up-to-date, and evidence-based.

So I remain busy working on advancing more women into sports leadership roles. Please stay tuned for the next Advancing Women in Sport research release, which will be a series of insights based on the stories of women who have played, studied, worked, led and governed sport in Australia. You will hear from a number of remarkable, tenacious and determined women about the good experiences, the great experiences and of course, the experiences that must change to ensure our sporting industry creates workplaces that are safe, welcoming environments where all people can reach their full potential.

This article was originally published by Advancing Women, and authored by Michelle Redfern

About Michelle Redfern

BLOG IMAGE Michelle RedfernMichelle is the founder of Advancing Women, an enterprise providing research and advisory services on equality, inclusion and gender diversity. She is also the founder professional women’s network Women Who Get It and co-founder of social enterprise CDW (Culturally Diverse Workforces). Michelle is determined to contribute to achieving global gender equality in her life time, especially through her research and advocacy in the sporting industry.

Michelle is a Non-executive director for Williamstown Football Club, an Ambassador for Honour a Woman, Respect Victoria and Flexible Working Day. She has held executive leadership roles ASX & FTSE listed companies NAB, Telstra and Serco during her 30-year career.

Michelle was named City of Melbourne B3000 Female Entrepreneur of the Year (2019), is a proud recipient of the AFR 100 Women of Influence Award (2018).


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