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27 February 2017 Posted by 


Learning from the AFL Women

By Susan Price

AS a proud GWS GIANTS member, I was delighted that my club decided to put in a bid for a for a women’s team in the inaugural AFLW competition.

I was even more excited when GWS GIANTS were successful in joining the other 7 foundation clubs who are taking the field in the first year of this historic competition.

The AFL has been caught a bit flat-footed with the interest in the women’s game, having to move the opening game to a bigger ground, and even then, having to turn crowds away on the night with Gillon McLachlan, AFL CEO, personally apologising to fans locked out of the ground. 

The coverage on both free-to–air and pay TV has drawn big crowds, and early signs are that the competition will be a huge success for the AFL. 

Sponsors NAB and advertisers like Chemist Warehouse are also on-board, making the most of the opportunities to showcase the stars of the game.

With International Women’s Day on March 8 each year, it is timely reflect on how significant this women’s competition is to how we think about the role of women in society, whether we are getting closer to equality, and what lessons we can learn to accelerate progress.

Women’s sport is not new. Women and girls have been playing sport for over 100 years, but what is new is the recognition that this is something that the general public wants to see, and that it should take its place alongside men’s sport on our television screens and on our sporting fields. 

There is an old adage that you can’t be what you can’t see, and for too long girls who have been playing sport have had no role models or pathways open to them should they wish to play professionally. That is changing.

Sport is such an essential part of our Australian identity that it is no wonder that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, has identified it as one of her focus areas for challenging us on gender equality.

It holds the power to send strong messages about what girls and women can do, and break down traditional gender stereotypes.

If anyone has seen the level of skill and aggression in the early AFLW rounds, you will know that these players are not afraid of physical contact, going just as hard at the footy as the male players

So what lessons can business learn from the AFLW?

Firstly, that here is a huge interest in women’s sport, and not just for female fans. At the games I have been at the crowd is mixed, with just as many male fans cheering on the teams as females. We can’t assume that only women are interested in women’s things.

To do so ignores half the population, limiting if not alienating a much bigger audience. Businesses should consider if they are reaching their full customer base.

Secondly, we close off opportunities when we stereotype men and women, and limit access to participation, whether that be on the playing field or off it. 

The annual PwC Women in Work Index, which measures female economic empowerment in the OECD countries, demonstrates what this limiting can amount to.

We have calculated that if we increased the rate of female employment to match that of Sweden (one of the most gender equal countries in the world), it could lift Australian GDP by 11%, or A$174 billion, and US$6 trillion across the whole of the OECD.

Thirdly, although the current female players are not paid anything near the same as their male colleagues, and will not be until the game matures and develops its revenue sources, there is an entrenched gender pay gap in Australia that has not shifted from around the 16% mark.

This is due to many factors like; the lack of women in senior leadership positions; the high proportion of women working in female dominated industries that tend to be lower paid like retail, services, education and care; and the interrupted pattern of work that many women experience when they take time out to have children. 

We have estimated that closing the gender pay gap in Australia could add A$60 billion to GDP.

Some of the ways in which employers can address these issues are by doing a regular gender pay analysis, and looking at factors like time in role, performance rating and full-time/part-time status to identify if there are any gender based reasons for differential pay. 

Currently only 27% of organisations that report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency say they have done a pay gap analysis in the last year, yet this is the first step in identifying and remedying any problem. 

Secondly flexibility should be available for all employees, male and female, irrespective of any caring responsibilities. Employees who have access to flexible work arrangements are often more productive and engaged, and value the flexibility their employer offers.

Finally, we need to challenge traditional ideas of the roles that men and women play in society more broadly.

 Australia has one of the highest rates of female part-time employment in the OECD, driven in part by deeply held beliefs that women have the job of looking after children, and men are the breadwinners.

This creates barriers for both men and women that can be limiting, with men sometimes being unable to access flexible roles or parental leave, and women feeling judged as bad mothers if they don’t. 

So as a proud GWS GIANTS AFLW foundation member I love it that the women on the field are helping break down some of those gender stereotypes and showing there is a path for younger girls.  Now we just have to maintain the momentum and make the AFLW as successful as the AFL. 

PwC is excited to announce a partnership with the AFL Women’s league, designed to contribute to the growth and development of the players. As part of the partnership, 2-3 players from each club will be able to participate in an eight month experiential leadership program run by PwC, which will help women build practical and leadership skills and develop a trusted network outside of the game. Susan Price is a Director at PwC Australia. She helps organisations improve their diversity and inclusion to drive better business outcomes.



Michael Walls
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Western Sydney Business Access (WSBA) covers the business and community issues of the Greater Western Sydney region of Australia. WSBA is the popular media source for connecting with the pulse of the region and tapping into it's vast opportunities and networks.