A call out for women to join a sports board and change the world

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‘It is way easier to throw rocks at the tent’.

It’s an expression I have come to use frequently, although the proper saying may use a house instead of a tent, but regardless, my take on it is: ‘it is easier to criticise than to actually try to build something.’

With social media in our hands, throwing rocks is so easy. I have thrown them, too. It’s not my preference though. Because, really, what I want to do is build.

I want to build a better sport. One that is commercially savvy and financially viable. One that excites people and inspires them to jump on a bike or cheer for those trying their best. One that encourages people, especially kids, to use bikes everyday: to school, to the shops, to other activities. And above all, a sport that welcomes all, and treats participants, fans and volunteers in an equitable way.

For the past six years I have been a board member of Cycling Victoria, sitting in the tent. The organisation has seen a lot change over this time, and was the early adopter amongst cycling bodies on policy and practice changes regarding equality. I am proud of a lot of stuff we achieved.

As my time comes to an end, I also know that the process of change is not linear. Making change ‘stick’ or be sustainable takes time. It involves self-awareness and reflection, critical reviews and pivots when things don’t work, and above all, an ongoing commitment to the long term goal. Without these elements in place, there is a good chance we can regress.

Regression may seem a crazy idea. But if you look back in our history it has happened, and unless we are self-aware of the dangers, it can happen again.

Let me give you an example. In 2014 the world celebrated when the organisers of the Tour de France introduced a one-day criterium for the professional women, called La Course, to run alongside the men’s race on the final day of the Tour. It was progress like we had never seen before.

Or was it?

Thirty years prior, in 1984, a women’s Tour de France, called Tour de Feminin, was held in conjunction with the Tour. It ran for two weeks and was raced on the same routes as the men’s race and enjoyed significant media coverage. At the time, it too was celebrated for the progress it had achieved for women in cycling.

It can be easy to compare the two and consider which event was the most progressive. But 1984 wasn’t the first time we saw ‘progress’ for a women’s Tour de France. In fact the first version, the Tour de France de Feminin was held in 1955. Each time, a thirty year cycle of progress and regression.

This historical cycle, brought into perspective in research from socio-historians such as Fiona McLachlan, highlights the challenges we face with sustaining change. Why have we lost progress in the past? Why do we settle for something so unequal now?

History hints that these periods of progress lost ground when momentum dropped, and slowly all that had been achieved died away and retracted again.

I think of these long term trends, and ponder the effectiveness of flinging rocks compared to stepping inside the tent to help built and sustain change for the better. I am of the firm belief that we can’t let this recent spike of progress lose momentum again. We can’t let history repeat itself.

As I said, it is easy to complain and point out the things that are wrong. It is much harder to change them, or even to keep those changes in place to stop regressing again.

And that’s why I am asking for your help.

The more people there are supporting the momentum we’re currently seeing in women’s cycling, the better our prospects for progress and the more resilient the sport is to regression.

Cycling as a sport needs great governance with smart, strategic people on board. People who understand both business and sport, and the business of sport. People with vision and wonderful skills, and education and experiences outside of cycling that can help enhance the direction and unlock the potential of the sport.

Don’t read that and think you can’t fulfil that role. Of course you can!

You don’t need to be Einstein. Your ability to contribute to a cycling board has nothing to do with whether or not you represented your country. You certainly don’t need to have ever won a race. One of our best board contributors has never raced, and rides her bike just once a month simply for the social perks.
The best tool you can bring into a meeting is the question that asks: ‘is this the best decision for the future of the sport?’

In my opinion, being able to remain strategic, utilising your life skills, and applying some dedication to the role are the three essential tools to standing inside the tent.

As I said, this isn’t easy. It is a tough role trying to progress a sport. But aside from furthering women’s cycling, a stint on a sports board is a great career experience that will boost your governance and management experience, and can facilitate openings to other board roles in the future.

Imagine being able to say that you contributed to the progression of cycling to be a more successful, stable, inclusive and equitable sport! How exciting is that?!

Are you willing to step inside the tent?
Please consider joining a Cycling Board

  • If you are in Australia or the UK, join Women on Boards. Most not-for-profit organisations, including sport, will advertise positions here.
  • In the US, most states have their own cycling associations and women’s committees. Follow up with your local governing body.
  • Organisations will also advertise positions on their own websites. While at their website, familiarise yourself with the organisation constitution and AGM calendar.
  • Contact the CEO, GM, or Board President to inquire about the current organisational strategies and recent financial reports.
  • Some sports boards, such as cycling, have voting processes for elections. In Victoria, our clubs are our members who vote to elect board members. Ask your club about the process.
  • Consider your motivations for joining the board. While the role of the board is to be strategic, in smaller organisations a board member may be required to contribute to other areas of the business such as sitting on sub-committees or commissions.
  • The board takes a bit of time commitment, and being strategic requires a change of perspective from just a pure ‘race or ride’ mindset. So if you have current goals within cycling, consider how you can balance both.
  • If you are unfamiliar with board finance, take this excellent (and free) online course. While the course refers to for-profit businesses, in a not-for-profit organisation net earnings are retained for reinvestment into the business.
  • If you are in Victoria, nominations are currently open for the Cycling Victoria board. You can follow the process here. In 2016 the Cycling Victoria constitution was changed to support gender equality on the board. From 2016 onwards there will be two separate elections at the AGM each year: one for a female board member, and the other for a male board member. The board can also co-opt directors who have specialist skillsets.

Nominations close 1 October 2016.

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