When the NRL’s new Chief Operating Officer Suzanne Young was announced to her role on Monday, the headlines screamed “mother of six”. The social media reaction to the news was positive, but not to the way in which the appointment of this highly successful businesswoman was expressed. The following tweet summed up community sentiment:
“But why does the headline point out she is a mother of six? Do we know how many kids male execs have?”
When Westpac CEO Gail Kelly announced her retirement last week the headlines didn’t scream “mother of four” but that detail was mentioned in the body of most of the articles detailing her accomplishments. We all know that Julie Bishop and Julia Gillard are not mothers, so clearly and consistently has that fact been reported.
Yet I struggle to think how many children most men in politics or business have. With the exception of the Prime Minister whose daughters were visible supporters during the election campaign, how many children a male leader has doesn’t appear to be an important element that is reported.
In the last two months media reporting of at least three successful career women has led with the characterization of their roles as mothers of three, four and six respectively. Those women were Chair of the BBC Trust Rona Fairhead, President of the ACTU Ged Kearney and now Suzanne Young.
Over the past 20 years, Young built an impressive corporate career as a senior executive managing strategy development and operations in global companies Leighton Holdings, CBA, Qantas and Unisys. Her resume is outstanding.
Young also has solid experience in sports governance and participation as a director, coach and official of Surf Life Saving. It was her other hat as a “mother of six” that appeared to attract the most attention when her appointment was announced yesterday, but Young remains unfazed by the media’s focus on that aspect of her life which has nothing to do with her suitability for the role as COO of the NRL.
“I am very proud to be a mother of three teenage boys and another three teenage step-children so I am not concerned,” Young said.
“I have been chosen on my merit for this role because of my experience in business and sport. The job is a perfect fit for me.
“I understand the ability of sport in building young people’s respect, self-confidence and resilience. That’s what makes this job so special – the opportunity for rugby league in growing and developing the leaders of the future.”
Forty percent of the rugby league fan base is female and that’s a statistic that the NRL has taken notice of. Earlier this year CEO Dave Smith put firm plans in place to increase the numbers of women in leadership roles.
The sport now has women in the leadership roles of Club CEO, Club Chair and Rugby League Commissioner. As well, there are 83 female Club Presidents throughout the various levels of the sport.
Young has said she wants to see rugby league continue to grow “so that even more women and children are involved in all levels of the game from grassroots to elite through participating, volunteering, officiating, coaching or as fans”.
“There are already many women involved in the game at all levels from boardrooms, senior executives within the NRL and at clubs as well as in the community,” she said.
“I am passionate about bringing women together and will obviously look for ways to continue to do that – the same as I have always done no matter where I have worked.
“I think it is important to have diversity in any work place because that is how you get the best ideas and innovation.”
Yesterday was Young’s first day in the job and she describes the culture, often criticised for being ‘blokey’, as “very strong and team oriented”.
“There is a sense of shared success, which I really like,” she said.
“My first priority is to work with my peers, my team, club CEOs and others across the game so that I develop a better understanding of the challenges and, importantly, the opportunities.
“This is a dream job for me, it is the opportunity to combine experience from my career with my passion for sport.”
Suzanne Young’s CV
Executive General Manager, Global Business Services
Leighton Holdings Limited
January 2014 – June 2014 (6 months) Sydney, Australia
Executive General Manager, Strategy and Operations, Institutional Banking and Markets
January 2013 – December 2013 (1 year) Sydney, Australia
Executive General Manager, Group Corporate Services
August 2010 – December 2012 (2 years 5 months) Sydney, Australia
Executive Manager, Shared Services and Chief Procurement Officer
Qantas Airways Limited
June 2007 – August 2010 (3 years 3 months)
Group General Manager, Finance Improvement & Segmentation
February 2006 – June 2007 (1 year 5 months)
Head of Finance, Corporate & Qantas Business Services
March 2004 – February 2006 (2 years)
General Manager, Shared Services
December 1997 – 2004 (7 years)
Manager, Taxation & Treasury
June 1995 – December 1997 (2 years 7 months)
Manager/Senior Taxation Consultant
Greenwoods & Freehills
October 1990 – June 1995 (4 years 9 months)
Volunteer Experience & Causes
Various leadership roles – Club Captain, Chief Instructor, Nippers President, Age Manager, Patrol Captain
North Bondi SLSC and Clovelly SLSC