A very interesting article I saw in the AFR today about our chair - I’m extremely worried about her motivations for taking this role on given her comments in this piece. I’m also unaware of who on our board covers the ‘football knowledge’ they were clearly not seeking in the NRL appointed directors. Cook is a Leagues Club CEO and Andreacchio is a real estate agent - so we have no football experience & in-depth knowledge on our board.
How men’s sport became the secret to women’s board success
By Fiona Smith
One thing media executive Marina Go has learned about advancing her career is that there’s nothing like a seat on a footy board to get the attention of the men who control Australia’s companies.
Ms Go, who is general manager of Hearst-Bauer Media in Australia, has sat on various smaller boards including six years at Netball Australia, but remained invisible to recruiters and chairmen until she went straight into the masculine heartland.
Last year, she joined the board of of Wests Tigers Rugby League club and was elected chair. Suddenly, she had arrived.
"By chairing a club board in a male sport, I was almost parachuting right into their heart, into their line of visibility, which is the most important thing," she said.
Ms Go took herself off to do the Australian Institute of Company Directors course for chairmen: "When I said I was the chair of West Tigers, I got a lot of attention from the room. There was a lot of attention on me, purely because of my role.
"So, it is true that male sports gain a lot of attention with men, in particular and, because we still live in a world where most chairmen – who make decisions about who is going to join a board – are male.
From a strategic point of view, it does feel like a pretty good opportunity.
“I’ve certainly been approached by many more recruiters about other opportunities and not all are suitable, but I’ve certainly had much more interest.”
Women are making real inroads into men’s sports. The Western Bulldogs AFL club has four female directors, Melbourne Football Club has two, the chair of the Gold Coast Titans is Rebecca Frizelle.
Women make up 24 per cent of all board directors in Australia (sport and non-sport) – but many of them tend to be the same women.
Group managing director of Coca-Cola Amatil, Alison Watkins, says boards tend to recruit people they feel comfortable with.
“I’ve seen boards get a lot more professional about using search processes and that’s positive, but you still see – even when they cast the net wide and redefine the criteria and come back with women candidates – there still can be a process where the board will go, ‘Does anyone know this person?’,” says Ms Watkins, who is on the board of Coca-Cola and the ANZ Bank.
Trailblazing a way into men’s sport is something Sam Mostyn knows about, after being appointed an Australian Football League Commissioner a decade ago.
“I do hear directors and headhunters say, ‘If only there were more women. If we could just find them and they had merit, we’d appoint them’,” said Ms Mostyn, who was sharing the stage with Ms Watkins at a Women in Banking event hosted by Deutsche Bank, last week.
“We all know that the pool of women is equal to the pool of men of meritorious stature in this country. It has to be, because we are graduating women in bigger numbers than men. But if the men and women on these boards don’t know them and don’t go further out from the good ol’ boys network, then we won’t get the traction that we need,” she said.
Ms Mostyn says her profile means she has become a “go-to” person for headhunters, even for boards where she has no relevant skills.
“I don’t want to be part of an old girls network, or an old boys network, I want to be part of a group of talented people who want to be in governance roles and deploy their skills for the benefit of those companies and organisations.”
Ms Mostyn says it is also time to address the fact that Australia has a “pitiful” number of directors from an Asian family background.
Ms Go said she was not asked about her knowledge of football during her interviews for Wests Tigers, although the involvement of her husband and younger son with the club meant she had quite a lot of familiarity.
However, she said she didn’t think a lack of knowledge would have gone against her because it wasn’t her footy knowledge they were after. They had other people for that.
“In my instance, the skill set they were looking for was digital media which is the future of everybody’s game,” she said. They were also interested in her governance experience in sport.
Ten years ago, the selection process for Ms Mostyn was a gruelling round of four interviews and a requirement that she meet 10 separate skills criteria, which included legal and commercial experience. A love and knowledge of AFL was also required and was not a problem.
While Ms Mostyn says she was proud to be appointed as the first female AFL commissioner, others were more skeptical: "It didn’t stop men and women saying to me, afterwards: 'Don’t get too proud because you are there because you are a woman and you weren’t put up against men.
“I was surprised that many women said that to me. I had to adjust and rethink things.”
Ms Go says some people in rugby league have felt “challenged” by her appointment, but they are a minority.
“I haven’t had a single negative experience,” she said.
Ms Mostyn says the AFL commission was looking for a woman at its top executive level because then then chairman, the late Ron Evans, felt it was a disgrace that women were not represented, despite making up 50 per cent of fans, 30 per cent of members and their role as volunteers and mothers of young players.
At the time, three of the 16 clubs voted against the appointment of a woman.
While Ms Mostyn might have been expected to have some adjustment difficulties as the sole woman in most meeting she attended, the sport also had some learning to do.
“There were some terrible moments when I started. There was no induction for women into that world at all, no sense that was required,” she said.
At gatherings, she was always seated next to another woman, no matter who that other woman was.
"The clubs host the commission at games and I would go along to these club presidents’ functions before a game, feeling proud of my role in the commission and I’d seen the commissioners turning up at these games always sat beside the president of the club. Always. It was a real coup to get a commissioner to a game.
“And I would turn up and I would be seated next to the wife of the president,” she said.
“When you walk in and are put a seat away from the president of the club, when your job is to represent the commission to the president, those kind of messages say you are not really a commissioner. It has got a lot better.”