A year to the day since the first Gender Leadership Moderators Seminar was held, many of the sport’s most prominent figures and prospective leaders came together online on Wednesday (18) for the World Athletics Global Conference: Inspiring Women Leaders in Athletics.
The Gender Leadership Programme undertaken by World Athletics has helped women from around the world prepare for leadership roles within national, area and global federations, with the ambition of creating a level playing field at the decision-making levels of the sport.
There have already been tangible outcomes at a global level. More women ran for Council – and were elected – in 2019 than ever before. Ximena Restrepo became World Athletics’ first female Vice President, and female representation among area and national federations is greater than it has ever been.
Last year’s Gender Leadership Moderators Seminar and this week’s global conference will ensure the positive momentum continues as the sport aims to achieve its longer-term targets of 40% female representation on the Council in 2023 and 50% representation in 2027.
Almost 300 attendees from across all six continental areas logged on to the global conference. Along with talks from four keynote speakers, there were also break-out sessions and panel discussions.
British sprinter Donna Fraser – who works as the Equality, Diversity and Engagement Lead and Domestic Athletics Operations Manager for UK Athletics – recalled her positive experience of last year’s seminar.
“When I walked into the room in Monaco last year, all the same feelings I experienced when I first set foot on a track at the age of 11 came flooding back,” said Fraser. “I met other like-minded women, women who looked like me, women who had the same passion for our sport and the same aspirations to progress in their careers. It just felt like being home. I now call them my ‘sisterhood’; they’re my extended family and they’re amazing individuals.”
Singapore’s Jaya Mylvaganam, a member of World Athletics’ Gender Leadership Taskforce, explained how her resilience led to her becoming the first female international starter in Asia.
“Platforms such as this Gender Leadership Taskforce are avenues for us as women officials to connect, support and empower each other,” she said. “Our journeys may not be easy but we need to constantly look forward, driven and fuelled by our passion for the sport. We need to showcase our abilities. We need to make our presence felt. We need to be officiating at various fields of play and hold high performance roles.”
Donna Raynor, President of the Bermuda National Athletics Association, said that becoming chairperson of the NACAC Gender Leadership Working Group brought out a passion that she didn’t realise she had.
“Women must have a voice, they must be heard, they must stand strong and it is our obligation to make sure we provide them with the opportunity and the environment to prepare for leadership positions,” she said. “We must show leadership and lead the way.”
World Athletics Vice President Restrepo offered some words of wisdom to any other women looking to take on a leadership role in athletics.
“My advice would be to surround yourself with good people, and not to be worried or scared of people you may think are better than you,” said the 1992 Olympic 400m bronze medallist. “A good support network can help you become a leader. It's a hard journey and nothing in life is free. Just work hard day after day and in the morning think to yourself, 'today I'm going to be a better version of myself'. And that's how we'll advance.”
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, CEO Jon Ridgeon and Council Member Beatrice Ayikoru also joined the conference. They were unanimous in their support and advocacy of the work being done by the Gender Leadership Taskforce.
“It’s important our sport reflects the world in which we live,” said Coe. “We have parity on the field of play and we also need this off the track. Balanced boards simply make better decisions, and initiatives such as this conference are critically important in helping us to achieve our equity goal.”