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We should be backing our winning women

Businesses have the chance to get more runs on the board by backing women in sport.

16 Sep 2014

Australian Sports Commission (ASC) Chair John Wylie AM writes for the Australian Financial Review about the opportunities surrounding women in sport.

As we enter the great annual September festivals of Australian sports, there’s another story going on in Australian sport.

It doesn’t get nearly as much attention in the local media, but in many ways it resonates more strongly around the world, projecting images of achievement and endeavour of which Australia can be very proud.

The story is about how our women are conquering the peaks of international sport.

The facts speak for themselves.

At the recent Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Australian women finished first overall in women’s events, with 26 gold medals to England’s 23 and Canada’s 19.

At the Sochi Winter Olympics, Australia had 15 top-10 finishes, 10 of which were won by our women. Six of the nine Winter Olympics medals for Australia since 2002 have been won by female athletes.

In the London Summer Olympics in 2012, Australian women won 57 per cent of all our medals. In Sydney in 2000 that figure was 38 per cent.

Our most accomplished athlete is Sally Pearson. Our most accomplished cyclist is Anna Meares. Our top-ranked rower is Kim Crow.

Our swimmers showed in the recent Pan Pac championships that they’re back in great form. We now have six No. 1 world rankings, four of them held by women.

Our Diamonds netball team and Southern Stars cricket team are world champions. I could go on but I think I’ve made my point.

It’s not to diminish the many great achievements of our men on the international stage, but what our female athletes are accomplishing right now is truly exceptional.

This success in many ways is mirrored by – and arguably the product of – growth at the grassroots level as well. As one example, netball now has 1.2 million participants annually and is one of largest participation sports in the country.

This story is in many ways a marketer’s dream. Yet the overall allocation of corporate dollars to sport by Australian business today remains resolutely stuck in the status quo, disproportionately skewed to the male professional sports.

Many corporate leaders are happy to champion gender diversity in their organisations, and that’s a good thing. One simple and powerful way for them to put that aspiration into practice would be to align their organisations much more with women’s sport. The case for doing so isn’t based on social equity. It’s grounded in corporate self-interest.

Sponsorship of women’s sport offers a strong return on investment – it’s successful, directly relevant to women and girls, uncluttered, inexpensive and low risk.

Our female sporting world champions are articulate, intelligent, grounded and impressive people who make fantastic ambassadors for any organisation lucky enough to have them on board.

They also just happen to the best in the world at what they do.

Some companies have realised that these champions also make terrific mentors for their young female executives. After all, who is better placed to coach ambitious up-and-comers on issues such as risk-taking, goal-setting and resilience than our high achieving sportswomen, for whom it is second nature to put it all on the line regularly against the best in the world?

It’s a great way to boost productivity, increase staff loyalty and mark your company out as an employer with a difference when you’re in the market competing to hire the best talent.

Some leading companies such as ANZ, Telstra, Optus, Foxtel, Australia Post, Coles, Ausdrill, San Remo and Menora Foods are ahead of the pack in realising this opportunity.

This is not a zero sum game that just reallocates the existing corporate sponsorship dollar.

Greater alignment with women’s sport can help Australian companies expand their markets, engage better with their customers, and train and retain high-potential employees more effectively.

This report first appeared in the Australian Financial Review 

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