I joined Venus Bay SLSC in 2001 and was involved in patrolling, competing and training. In 2006 a vacancy opened for Chief Instructor (someone to be in charge of all the training and education) within the club. Having been a training officer for 3 years I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to assist the club in growing and developing its training program. I have remained in the role ever since and am currently the longest serving member of the committee. When the club changed to a board of directors my title changed to Director of Education and Training.
What challenges have you faced in regards to gender equality and how have you overcome these?
The club was very male dominant when I joined and there was a need to recruit more females to provide a more balanced spread of members. Through targeted recruiting over a number of years we have been able to increase the number of females in the club and currently have more female active members than male!
When I joined Venus Bay SLSC there was only one female paid lifeguard (gold medallion) and I looked up to her as a role model and appreciated that she was working in a male dominated environment but could hold her own. She was physically strong and helped to break some of those stereotypes about females not being able to lift motors or paddle boards in heavy surf. She transferred to another club early in my paid lifesaving career but left a lasting impact and I tried to follow in her footsteps. For a number of years I was the only female paid lifeguard in the club and over time we worked to increase the numbers and have since gained 5 more female gold medallion holders.
As part of my role I also identified areas of improvement within the club, in particular, in relation to female participation. It was obvious on patrol that many females didn’t have the confidence to take boards out for rescuing or training. Also many females didn’t have opportunities to drive the IRB as the males would always list themselves as driver and crew. I implemented board training sessions for female members to help increase their skills and confidence. The rescue boards are quite large and cumbersome so the female board sessions gave members the opportunity to learn skills in an environment of support, where they didn’t feel judged. The club championships, the year after we introduced female board sessions, saw an increase in female board paddlers by a massive 80%. One of the best moments for me is seeing the younger female leaders now continuing this initiative and running sessions for others using the skills they learnt. For the IRB drivers and crew we offered more training and specifically approached females within the club to encourage them to gain their qualifications. We also changed the mentality on patrol by asking prominent male drivers to mentor specific females. They then became advocates for getting the females more involved in patrol and during rescues.
There was a flow on effect too with more females feeling confident to take on patrol captain or vice captain roles. I was fortunate to be a mentor for many of those who are currently in positions of leadership. Our make up of the leadership team both within the club and on the board of directors has had a direct shift with 75% now being female. I attribute this to our mentoring program and some wonderful role models we have had within the club
Why is having an equal playing field important in sporting clubs?
All members deserve the same opportunities regardless of their gender, race, background or religion. I believe every individual should be able to access quality training and education to develop their skills and knowledge, and become part of their sporting club/organisation. Everyone should have the opportunity, and every club has the responsibility to develop self-esteem, leadership, cooperative learning and an atmosphere of encouragement and support.
What advice would you give to other clubs wanting to improve gender equality at their club?
Gender stereotypes occur because of social conditioning which starts at a young age, and can ingrain in children limiting gender roles and expectations. To improve gender equality we need to break down gender stereotypes by educating members within the club, inspiring the next generation, and shaping the way members think and speak about gender and equality. When you find something you love doing, you do everything you can to make it work; embrace diverse role models, lead by example, empower people to speak up, network with other clubs and organisations to challenge gender stereotypes. Stereotypes surrounding gender equality are changing, diversity is being embraced, and whilst volunteer organisations will always face challenges, with the right support and attitude we can work together towards achieving great things.