VIS Paves the Way for Gender Equality in Coaching

According to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), less than 10 per cent of the top 36 funded high-performance sports in this country are led by women.

This stark lack of representation and the consequences for Australian sport should it remain is why the AIS released a Women in High Performance Coaching Action Plan this week, calling for cultural and systemic change across the Australian high performance sport system.

Matti Clements, Executive General Manager of Performance at the AIS, said there is a deep gender gap in head coaching roles in Australia that is widening.

And as the nation's community of high-performance sports and organisations embark on a long-term strategy in preparation for a home Olympic and Paralympic games in Brisbane in 2032, the time to address the gap is at hand.

"We must be more inclusive and take action to remove the complexity and challenges facing women coaches," Clements says.

"...individual behaviours and cultural norms are the major driver of poor participation of women in coaching. These attitudes are no longer acceptable, nor are they compatible with Australia's High Performance 2032+ Sport Strategy and our collective commitment to win well.

"We need a systematic approach to embed sustainable change so that by 2032 we won't be talking about women coaches - just coaches."

For its part, the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) began addressing this issue some time ago. Not through an explicit agenda or policy but rather a robust recruitment process and a high value placed on the retention of excellent coaches.

"In valuing the retention of good coaches, the VIS adopted flexible work arrangements to accommodate coaches through different stages of their life," VIS CEO Anne Marie Harrison says.

"A role of the VIS management is to create a workplace for coaches to operate to the best of their ability and to do so, VIS supports the needs of the individual."

The upshot of this approach is felt throughout the VIS and is instructive.

The VIS is chaired by Nataly Matijevic, led day-to-day by Harrison who has been CEO for 17 years, and 69 of the 120 permanent employees are female. The gender split of the VIS executive is 50-50.

The VIS director of Performance Health Services, the Innovation and Research Project Manager and two of the four General Managers of High Performance, among the most senior positions in the state's peak high-performance centre, are female.

Two female coaches dedicated to the development of future, or Gen32, coaches are in place and across a diverse range of sports, from archery to sailing, a further seven coaches are female.

"A gender inclusive culture makes for a strong organisation and in our field, results don't lie," Harrison adds.

Results, for some, cut to the heart of the matter. In that regard, the last 18 months have been very good for the VIS.

At the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham 67 VIS athletes represented Australia and the VIS medal haul of 41 represented almost a quarter of the nation's tally.

Elsewhere, VIS athletes won or shared in 11 world titles and, in all, 39 reached the podium in world championship competition.

And yet, for someone like VIS Para-cyclist, triple Paralympian and nine-time world champion, Carol Cooke OAM, high-performance success is more than results.

A former swimmer who turned to Para cycling after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Cooke agrees that the VIS environment is unmistakably performance driven but argues it fulfils an important role in making real for women a career in sport.

And this, according to Cooke, serves a broader purpose.

"Having women in sports leadership roles ensures that the diverse perspectives, experiences, and voices of women are considered, promoting inclusivity and the making of decisions that cater to a wide range of needs and interests."

Cover Image: VIS Netball Development Coach and AIS Gen32 Coach, Elissa Kent, with VIS netball development scholarship athletes.

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