Why chairing this NRL club is a dream come true - Women's Agenda

Why chairing this NRL club is a dream come true

Every working mother understands the increasing degree of difficulty in finding opportunities to connect with her children’s interests and passions, particularly once they reach the teenage years. We’re mostly speaking completely different languages.

So it felt like serendipity when I was asked to nominate as an independent director of the rugby league team that one of my sons is obsessed with. I figured that I could put the sports governance skills that I had honed as a non-executive director of Netball Australia for six years to good use and spend quality time with my youngest child, in his world. And to be honest I was keen to join the board of a male sport in need of diversity.

NRL CEO David Smith announced his intention to include more women at the governance level shortly after his appointment. I had been warned by those clearly out of the know that the rugby league community wouldn’t take kindly to clubs “being run by women”. My first afternoon at Leichhardt Oval as a director of Wests Tigers revealed a different story. Wests Tigers appointed two women to its new board last Friday and Rosemary Sinclair and I were warmly welcomed by everyone at our first official event, the pre-game lunch in the Chairman’s Lounge with club management, shareholders and sponsors.

When the game started we grabbed a seat next to a man who was as thrilled as I was to see Belinda Sleeman running the line as the first female to officiate a first-grade match. A wonderful woman called Gwen, seated behind me, leaned forward to welcome me to her oval, a place she has been “coming to for 70 years and where I want my ashes scattered”. She shared that she had been fighting for the inclusion of more women in the sport for decades and now it was finally here. An end-of-season win added to the buoyant mood. My son was overjoyed. He told me it was one of the best days of his life.

We got down to business as a board for the first time last night and I was elected Chair. It was a decision that I had discussed with my husband Graeme and two sons when it was first floated. I also ran it by a friend who looked me in the eye and asked what advice I would give if our roles were reversed. Without hesitation I would say to go for it. I speak to women about this all the time. I had to walk the talk.

It’s a big step forward for the club. Within a three-day period Wests Tigers gained its first female directors and first female Chair. The fact that I was elected unopposed by a board that includes two directors from each of the shareholders Balmain and Wests speaks volumes about the maturity of the club and the sport in general. My twitterfeed was immediately consumed by well-wishes from fans and stakeholders. I understand that it won’t always be that way, particularly in the face of tough decision-making that fans will need to trust the board to make in the best interests of the club’s future.

I have been warned that it will be “a tough gig” and I have no doubt that there will be many challenges. But as with corporate boards, the potential for success lies in strengthening the organisation through clever, disciplined strategy and unified leadership. I am grateful for the opportunity to try.

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