Dr Bridie O’Donnell inducted to honour roll as a change agent

Dr Bridie O’Donnell is a powerhouse.

We’ve all known it for some time, but now it’s official.

Last week Dr O’Donnell was inducted into the 2021 Victorian Women’s Honour Roll under the ‘Change Agent’ category. The citation noted Dr O’Donnell’s extensive work as a physician, professional athlete and gender equality expert, becoming the inaugural Director of the Victorian Government’s Office for Women in Sport and Recreation (OWSR) in 2017.

Dr O’Donnell was named alongside an impressive list of high achieving women - women from all walks of life who have made significant and lasting contributions to the Victorian community. The inductees covered diverse fields such as business, education, health and medical research, sport, child welfare, gender equity and public life.

Always the high achiever, Dr O’Donnell ticks off three of those fields!

Current OWSR Director Sarah Styles said Dr O’Donnell is well deserving of such recognition.

“Bridie was the first women to run the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation, which was in itself a world first. She built OWSR from the ground – bringing the ambition, passion and focus on performance developed and refined as a world champion athlete into the Office to create and drive world leading programs,” Styles said.

“Her impact on gender equality in sport has been enormous, and while there is still more to do, the substantial progress made under Bridie’s stewardship has changed the game for women in sport in Victoria and beyond,” Styles continued.

Others agree.

During implementation of the initial Change Our Game initiatives, Dr O’Donnell made 300+ public appearances to personally bring along the entire Victorian sport sector on this journey of change. She promoted the benefits of change, she told personal anecdotes, she answered a multitude of questions, she alleviated concerns, she showcased the benefits and possibilities, she got people excited, she changed the game. In a recent meeting of the current OWSR team where we discussed the initiative and what drove it’s early success, one staff member called it, “the Bridie factor.”

Under O’Donnell’s leadership, the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation led a world-first board quota policy requiring sport and active recreation organisations funded by Sport and Recreation Victoria to have at least 40 per cent women on boards. Prior to implementation of this policy only 44 per cent of sports had a minimum of 40 per cent women on their boards, and today this figure sits at 95 per cent.

This certainly rates as one of her proudest achievements, with Dr O’Donnell saying, “That work required incredible collaboration, education and persistent advocacy over the first 18 months of the Office.”

There is a lot to be proud of, and many highlights.

“We hosted a world-first ‘Girls in Sport Summit’ with 100 13-15yo girls to celebrate International Day of the Girl and we surveyed them in real time over the day about the barrier and enablers of sport. But powerfully for me, were the events we held to drive engagement, networking, and showcase brilliant leaders. We hosted three International Women’s Day events: each brought together the most incredible array of leaders across sport and connected business and sport and community, and I got to interview the inimitable Billie Jean King,” reminisced O’Donnell.

Dr O’Donnell noted the huge shift in attitudes toward roles that women and girls embody in sport since her days as a competitive athlete many years ago.

“Discussions on women in leadership positions, women in broadcasting, pay equity, media representation, sexism, inclusion, the importance of trans inclusion in sport and safe spaces for non-binary people to play and compete are now conversations we have in public, on social media and in the mainstream media. I feel safe to ask questions, and I feel empowered to challenge those who are resistant to change or who tell me “not yet…” or “soon…” when we are seeking equal representation of women in sports media or asking why there are not more women in positions of visible leadership in sport.

“This includes an ongoing disparity between gender representation by women as CEOs, presidents, coaches, referees, umpires, officials and broadcasters.

“And there is still overwhelming privilege for white, cis, able bodied women in sport who are permitted to have a voice in some environments which continue to exclude diverse voices, faces and opinions. I feel fortunate that I can use my experience and my platform to ensure others can get an opportunity,” said O’Donnell.

Dr O’Donnell departed her role as Director of OWSR in August, 2020 and is now part of the team leading the Victorian COVID-19 response and recovery in her role as Area of Operations Controller for South East Metro within the Department of Health.

She has taken this honour roll recognition in her stride saying, “I feel very humbled! The women on this Honour Roll are such a diverse group of people who have made extraordinary contribution to Victoria and led to significant change, so I feel very honoured to join them. I have had the amazing opportunity to work with and meet many of these women and see how they support the community and shape the state.”

And whilst the impact Dr O’Donnell will have on the Victorian community will continue for years to come, there was significant acknowledgement on the impact she has already had as a change agent when her 2021 Victorian Women’s Honour Roll induction was announced.

Samantha Culbert, for Office for Women in Sport and Recreation
Friday 19 November, 2021

Change Our Game

Learn more about
Change Our Game