An investment banker with strategy experience and an indoor virtual golf business on the side, Sarah Styles seemed to have the perfect combination of skills for a position at Cricket Australia.
Styles was approached about a role in female engagement at Cricket Australia by a head-hunter who was looking for a female investment banker with an interest in sport. She joined Cricket Australia as Head of Female Engagement in late 2014.
What the head-hunter perhaps didn’t realise, was that they handed Styles her dream job.
Although there’s been a national competition for women in Australia since 1930, Styles believes there is momentum currently building in the world of women’s cricket.
“We are hosting the women’s cricket World Cup next year and on International Women’s Day, we are hoping to break the record for the highest attendance rate for a women’s sporting event,” Styles told Women’s Agenda recently.
“We’ve got this moment in time that we aren’t going to have again for a generation.”
While upping female engagement in men’s cricket is still a focus for Cricket Australia, Styles is expanding the horizons of women’s involvement in cricket. She wants to connect Australians with the phenomenal women’s team that should be making the country very proud on the world stage.
Currently in professional cricket in Australia, women and men have equal pay for equal work at an hourly rate. The problem for women lies in how often they are given the opportunity to play.
“Differences then start coming because male domestic cricketers play more than women do. Women need opportunities to play more so that the pay is actually equal,” Styles said.
While media coverage of women’s cricket is slowly improving, building the fanbase for women’s games is also vital to improving the reality of the game for women.
“If we are to get to the point that we want to, where men and women are celebrated equally, a big part of that is continuing to grow the fan base and popularity. We are working hard on that.”
Next summer, the Women’s Big Bash League is shifting forward 2 months, giving women their own time to shine. Previously, men’s and women’s games have been played at the same time. Now, women have their own time to shine.
Also, Cricket Australia has launched their first national campaign specific to women’s elite cricket, #WatchMe. The campaign is a celebration of the incredible feats of the Australian Women’s Cricket Team and a rallying cry for all of Australia to get behind their team and celebrate the team’s performances on the field.
“This next evolution of #WatchMe, I’m really excited about. It reflects the increasing opportunities that we have coming over the next 12 months,” Styles said.
Styles is also focusing her efforts on some specific measures, including Cricket Australia’s 2022 targets for female engagement. Cricket Australia is close to employing 45% women and has been at that level been for a long time. What needs work, according to Styles, is how this presence of women translates into leadership.
“This year, we’ve gone from 20% to 26% of women who sit on boards – that’s 6 different boards. By 2022, we want to be at 40%. This 40% target focuses on all levels – not just senior leadership.”
Female cricket players frequently talk about how much they owe to the women who have come before them. After all, players in the 1930s literally knitted their own cricket jumpers and were paying their own way.
Styles is conscious of that past effort and how it has created the current platform that women experience in cricket. She wants to make the most of it.
“This momentum, we can’t take it for granted.”