Inspiring Women to Lead the Way

Inspiring Women to Lead the Way

Release Date : 01-Jul-2015 | Name : | Category :
Author : Nikki Richardson

In June 2014, 36 outstanding women from 14 countries, representing every continent, came together for the Women’s Sport Leadership Academy (WSLA) - a week-long residential course designed to forge the future leaders of women’s sport worldwide. Building on the success of last year’s event, WSLA is taking place again this month, hosted by the University of Chichester in the UK, and facilitated by the Anita White Foundation and Females Achieving Brilliance (FAB).
WSLA 2015 will see more than 40 leaders from women’s sport in 18 countries participating in a unique residential learning environment, which includes high-profile guest speakers, workshops, personal development planning, national and international support groups, as well as physical activities.

A towering force in the international women and sport movement, former England Women’s Hockey captain and Sport England Director Anita White explains that the importance of WSLA is helping women in middle and senior management positions in national and international sports organisations to overcome barriers and move into senior decision making positions: “Essentially WSLA is about empowering and inspiring women to go back to their organisations in their own countries and make a difference. The motivation they get from attending a week-long intensive residential course is really to feel they can do it.

“For many years we have thought sport was missing out because there weren’t enough women leaders. It’s only recently that more women leaders have emerged in this country, and in a lot of other countries sport is very much a male domain. We feel that this situation disadvantages sport and disadvantages women. What’s remarkable is that when you get a group of women together, even though they come from different situations, locations and cultures, you find that they share a huge amount. A lot of them have experienced many of the same things and have found their way through barriers. They share these things with each other, and it creates a really interesting dynamic.”


White passionately believes that, given the opportunity, women’s sport has the power to improve lives: “We have quite a lot of women coming from sport for development organisations, where sport is being used as a tool for personal and social development, and for international development. For example we have women running their own projects geared to getting kids off the streets, giving them a sense of purpose, a sense of self-worth, developing their leadership skills – more about personal development than simply developing their sporting abilities.”

Hugely improved media coverage of women’s sport in the UK seems to indicate a sea-change in the attitude of broadcasters and will undoubtedly attract investment from commercial partners. White is optimistic, and salutes the work of others raising public awareness of women’s sport: “There’s been a huge change. It seemed that a lot of the spotlight was on women during the 2012 London Olympics. I think women really came through in terms of the public consciousness, women presenters on TV, people like Clare Balding and Gabby Logan are right up there in the mainstream. There are women like Denise Lewis speaking for sport, and a lot of very, very good women involved in sport in the media. Of course the women’s performances at the Games were excellent as well, and that really helped.”

Of course women’s sport extends far beyond the Olympians, as White points out: “Women’s cricket has come up hugely, women’s hockey, women’s football, women’s rugby, netball, all those team sports that for so long have been Cinderellas, have come up in terms of what is offered to sports women, especially at elite level. They’ve suddenly got much, much more backing financially and they’re doing really well.”

Clean sport and sporting excellence is crucial, but so are the women in sports federations that drive inclusive sport forward. White believes that WSLA provides a unique opportunity for these women to meet and share learning: “I don’t think there are too many other opportunities to get the kind of personal development experience WSLA provides, alongside an international networking experience. That’s something very special and I think the notion of sharing with people from around the globe is attractive, and for many of these women there won’t be these kind of leadership opportunities in their countries. The applicants show a great deal of initiative in raising a proportion of the funds themselves. We then try and help with scholarships, top ups and travel grants.”

A week seems a very short time to change the world, but WSLA’s effect is deliberately long-reaching, White explains: ‘”It’s not just about the residential week – we stay in touch with the women, to provide mentoring and guidance. We ask them to let us know what they are doing, so we can measure the impact of what we are doing. It’s not just that when they go away they feel more confident and skilled-up in their abilities – it is also about what they do when they get back.”

White is understandably proud of what WSLA is achieving, but characteristically candid about the need for further work. WSLA is joint effort between the Anita White Foundation (AWF), Females Achieving Brilliance (FAB), led by Pauline Harrison and Lucy Faulkner, which provides a forum and support network for high-flying females in sport organisations in the UK, and the University of Chichester. White identifies that the missing element is a commercial partner: “We are very committed to securing a commercial sponsor. The university has been really generous in supporting us with their staff and facilities, but it’s unrealistic to expect that they can do that ad infinitum. We need to be self-sufficient in a business sense.”

White has a clear idea of the kind of partner WSLA will be looking for – and the opportunities and benefits a commercial partner would gain: ‘We would be looking for an organisation that shares our values and can go along with our objectives. Of course they will benefit from access to a global network. In terms of brand image, they would be associated with something that was very positive, particularly in global women’s sport development, which is a real ‘good news’ story’. We will be looking out for an organisation that is interested in women and sport, and the women’s sport market. It is obviously attractive to be associated with WSLA by name, but from a corporate social responsibility perspective we can offer the opportunity for the staff of a commercial partner to share skills and experience with women engaged in life-changing projects globally – and you don’t get a better personal development opportunity than that.”

The 2015 Women’s Sport Leadership Academy will be underway by the time these words are read. 43 women, decision makers, ‘doers’, will be sharing their experiences, learning from each other, networking and returning to their organisations energised. The success of WSLA is evidence that this an exciting time to be in women’s sport – and that women are making change happen.

“I don’t think there are too many other opportunities to get the kind of personal development experience WSLA provides”
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