Early success prompts expansion of mentoring program for women surf life savers

Early success prompts expansion of mentoring program for women surf life savers


When Surf Life Saving Australia invited applications for its inaugural mentoring program for women surf life savers last year, it received more than 160 applications for just 40 positions.

Now, before that first program has even finished, it has launched a second round, in response to the program’s outstanding success and a high level of interest from women within the organisation.

“I applied because I was being offered leadership roles but I didn’t feel very confident in my skills as a leader,” said Felicity MacArthur, a patrol captain at the Bondi Surf Life Saving Club, who was selected as a mentee in the first program.

“Finding and trusting my voice has been an incredibly strong thread through all of my conversations and growth so far. We’ve worked on how to communicate, and finding a way to be a ‘strong’ leader without being mean, and learning my own style of communication and leadership.

“It has been fantastic: my mentor and I have had lots of great conversations and I’ve learned so much. Each time we talk I have a list of things I want to work on, which we talk about, and then I go away and apply them.

“I feel very spoilt to have her time, experience, and genuine interest in helping me and my development. It’s been great to have someone who understands surf life saving so well, so you can discuss all aspects of it, and start to plan my development within SLSA and my club moving forwards. It’s also been helpful in my professional career.”

MacArthur’s mentor, Kerrie Barnes, who joined the organisation some 25 years ago, is a life member of Surf Life Saving Queensland Point Danger Branch and has held various leadership positions, including club captain and later, as a manager.

“When I joined surf life saving there were not a lot of female role models or women in major positions in our association, and while I was fortunate enough to have a number of men in my corner who truly believed in me, there are specific challenges that confront women in this male dominated area,” Barnes said. “It was important to me to be able to give back and provide guidance and support to others and this program was a great catalyst to be able to do this.”

“In the first instance, it was important for me to have her understand her achievements to date, for example, being a patrol captain on the busiest beach in Australia is amazing.

“We have put a lot of focus on communication with others and different ways to tackle issues as they arise. For example, there were some younger members on her patrol that were not always respectful of her and the other patrol captains, so I suggested a tactic that I employed when I used to patrol and it’s been rewarding to know that Felicity has found it useful.

“I feel her confidence has grown enormously since we started the program and it has been very rewarding for me.”

MacArthur and Barnes talk for an hour or so, every couple of weeks, but keep in touch constantly via email and SMS. Both recommended the program to others, and Barnes now has friends in the second program.

With women comprising 45 per cent of SLSA’s total membership base, but just over 20 per cent of leadership roles, the SLSA Women’s Mentoring Program, facilitated by leadership development organisation McCarthy Mentoring, is designed to strengthen and support females in positions of leadership in Surf Life Saving.

“We were overwhelmed by the quality of applicants initially received and are proud to be able to launch a new group of mentors and mentees only eight months after our first group,” said Suzanne Storrie, a SLSA life member and board director, who was a key driver behind the program.

“The growth and development that has occurred with our initial group has been nothing short of inspirational,” Storrie said.

“It has been incredible to listen and watch both the mentees and mentors learn and grow from this experience, with many discovering passions, securing new jobs and of course using their experience to strengthen and enrich their own Surf Life Saving community.”

McCarthy Mentoring has a long and proud history of partnering with organisations, particularly around gender equity, with a goal of seeing more women in leadership roles. As CEO, it’s been immensely rewarding to play a role in helping to develop these amazing women and future leaders of surf life saving.

The first program is scheduled to conclude in June 2021, while the second cohort of 21 mentors and 21 mentees is now underway and will continue until January 2022.

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