In her younger years, rugby league was simply a way to spend more time with her dad and brothers on the weekend. She loved it, and never stopped to ask where all the women were.
“I almost feel a sense of shame looking back over my youth because I never stopped to ask whether women played rugby league,” she tells Women’s Agenda.
Now, things are different. Mary is passionate about opening the door for more women to be involved in conversations about rugby league.
It’s why she started an online sporting blog and now hosts two podcasts with ABC Grandstand, Ladies who League and Ladies who Legspin. With the NRL season coming to a close, she’s ramping up for an exciting summer of women’s cricket, especially the Women’s T20 World Cup.
“I will travel to the final in Melbourne for International Women’s Day, where we are trying to break the world record for the highest ever attendance for a standalone women’s sporting event worldwide,” she says.
As Mary points out, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Mary is a finalist in the 2019 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards, in the category of Emerging Female Leader in Sport.
Our finalists are sharing some awesome career wisdom in these Q&As, as well as more on their back story and leadership journey. See our growing hub for this content here.
Has your career in this field been planned or has it happened by chance? What put you on this path today?
Whilst my role in sport was certainly not planned, my other job as a lawyer certainly was!
I have had an interest in rugby league since I was eight years old. I wanted to spend more time with my dad and brother’s on the weekend and to do that, I needed to watch the footy with them. Once I adopted a team, the Parramatta Eels (like the rest of my family, I was officially a goner).
I stayed interested in rugby league from that moment on, but it wasn’t until a woman I was working with encouraged me to do something about it, that I started Ladies who League as an online blog.
At that point, my focus was still very much on the men’s game, because that was all I knew. I almost feel a sense of shame looking back over my youth because I never stopped to ask whether women played rugby league and that was because you can’t be what you can’t see. At that point, women playing rugby league were invisible.
When I learnt about our Australian Jillaroos (the Australian Women’s Rugby League team) and realised that even as a very passionate footy fan, I knew very little about them, everything changed.
Since then, I have become a passionate advocate for women in sport and in particular the women who play sport across a variety of codes including rugby league, AFL, cricket, touch football, basketball and netball.
I have had the opportunity to write for several publications including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and Women’s Agenda and I have two podcasts part of the ABC Grandstand family – Ladies who League and Ladies who Legspin.
What are you working on right now that’s got you really excited?
With the NRL season coming to a close, my focus now turns to cricket and in particular the Aussie women and their upcoming international series against the West Indies and Sri Lanka, followed by the WBBL and then the Women’s T20 World Cup which will be held in Australia in 2020.
What is exciting is that when my co-host Brittany Carter and I started the Ladies who Legspin podcast it only went for eight weeks over the summer. We are now staring down the barrel of a seven month season which demonstrates the growth in women’s cricket. We look forward to continuing to advocate for women involved in cricket in what is going to be the biggest summer yet.
In particular, I’m excited about being named a 2020 Champion and working with the ICC to promote the Women’s T20 World Cup. I’ll be at the semi-finals in Sydney and then will travel to the final in Melbourne for International Women’s Day where we are trying to break the world record for the highest ever attendance for a standalone women’s sporting event worldwide. I hope to see plenty of you there.
What’s a key issue facing women in your profession or line of work right now?
Online abuse is not just a big issue in my line of work, but for any women who operates in a public space advocating for change which would challenge the status quo.
Check the comments sections for articles on women’s sport or the comments on photos or tweets shared by female athletes. You will be horrified, particularly in relation to comments made about their appearance and sexuality.
There have been times where this online abuse has been really hard to deal with; not just for me but also for my family and my friends.
But ultimately, it is part of the price for the work that I do and I’m fortunate to have many people around me which continue to support my work and advocate with me.
The world is slowly changing – I just wish it was happening faster.
The best tip you’ve been given in your career?
One of my favourites comes from a woman that is a constant source of inspiration for me, Marina Go – ‘say yes and work it out later’.
How have mentors, sponsors or some other kind of support system aided your career, if at all?
Definitely – I’ve certainly benefited from the support of a number of men and women throughout my career.
I’ve also tried to pay this forward too, in being available as a mentee for many young men and women in the profession. I only have one rule when taking on a new mentee. When I was starting out in the sporting space, I met with many men and women more senior than me who would always pay for my cup of coffee. I now meet with mentees on the condition that they let me pay for their coffee and then agree to pay it forward later in their careers.
Throughout my career I’m so lucky to have had people give me their time and energy like Lucy Zelic, Suzanne Young, Lynne Anderson, Marina Go, Sarah Styles and Karina Keisler.
Additionally the support of the major sporting bodies like the NRL, Cricket Australia, Netball NSW and the GWS Giants has always been appreciated.
As well as your career, what other priorities do you juggle?
As well as my various commitments with ‘Ladies who League’ and its associated spin offs, I have a full time role as a lawyer.
I also volunteer my time for a variety of organisations too – I am currently a board member for the LBW Trust, an ambassador for the Full Stop Foundation and Life Education and a member of the Parramatta Eels [email protected] Steering Committee.
My family, friends and partner are all very important to me too, so it’s vital that I get plenty of time with them during the week too.
How do you manage your wellbeing and stay at the top of your game?
At times it can be hard, but there are a couple of things that get me through.
I still live at home with my mum and dad who provide constant support, particularly in making sure that the ‘back end’ of my life is working and functioning.
But genuinely, I love what I do. Often when I need it the most, I’ll receive a timely reminder of the importance of the work that I do. A good example was last year, there were a series of weeks where I was quite busy, feeling very run down and overwhelmed with too many commitments. I had an interview that afternoon with a young female athlete and wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic. But then I spoke to this athlete who had such a passion for sport and in particular inspiring the next generation and I remembered why I do the work that I do.
I’ve also started keeping a folder in my inbox titled ‘Moments of Inspiration’ where I file emails of key achievements or messages of support. These messages often give me a boost when I need them the most.
Where do you currently get news and info regarding your industry and career?
Mainly from social media, particularly Twitter.
Got a business or career book or podcast you’d recommend?
May I recommend a Ted talk instead?
I remember the first time I watched Brene Brown on vulnerability, it was genuinely life changing.
Brene focuses on the power and importance of vulnerability and additionally, introduced me to what has become my favourite quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I spend a lot of time online and advocating for women in a space which has traditionally been dominated my males. This quote has taught me plenty about resilience and pushes me to continue the work I do even when it is tiring, underappreciated or comes under attack.