#CountHerIn (Oh, and get we just get on with it?)

Sarah Styles, Director of the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation addresses the room at the 2024 Change Our Game International Women's Day Lunch.

The below is a subset of Sarah's welcome at the event on Friday, 8th March at Melbourne Town Hall.

Sarah Styles speaking at International Women's Day event

Good afternoon everyone.

Thank you for joining us today for the 2024 Change Our Game International Women’s Day event.

I’d like to begin by thanking Lillie [Walker] and Uncle Tony for welcoming us today, and to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people, as traditional owners of the lands on which we gather, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. I extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here in the room today as well as joining us online.

I’d also like to thank the Minister for her words of support, and acknowledge how this year’s International Women’s Day theme of Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress. is so well demonstrated by the investment being made here in Victoria to level the playing field for women and girls.

Because, yes, we are still the only dedicated office of our type in Australia, and that is not something we take for granted.

And yes, as many of you will have heard me say before: women and girls are still the single biggest growth opportunity in Australian sport.

I’m thrilled to see such phenomenal interest in today’s event once again. We have 700 people here in the room with us – which I can assure you is the maximum capacity because we very much double-checked – as well as more than 300 people registered to join us online, including from across regional Victoria, from interstate and overseas.

That's more than 1,000 champions for women in sport right here today.

This past year has shown as us some of the very best of what sport can do for our communities, as well as what we’re collectively all still working to dismantle.

Who will ever forget the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Matildas Effect in full flight?

Close to 1.3 million tickets sold just for the matches in Australia, for a total attendance of almost 2 million across the tournament, and just last week, the Matildas’ 12th consecutive sold-out match.

I’m pretty sure my toes are still a bit frostbitten from watching that incredible penalty shootout in Fed Square, and what else is incredible is how we’re going to hear stories for decades to come of so many whose journeys in sport were inspired by that period of time.

Tied to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation released The Value of You Can Be What You Can See, a report we undertook with Gemba to drive increased corporate sponsorship of women in sport.

Work globally has found that women’s sport benefits from only 12% of investment by corporate sponsors.

This underinvestment by corporate sponsors is limiting the ability for women’s sport to invest in itself; to grow its fanbase, participant base, its revenue, and ultimately, its own future.

Our work found that for every $1 being invested by a sponsor into the visibility of women’s elite sport, on average returns $7.29 in customer value for that sponsor.

And that the early movers who have aligned themselves with women’s sport in Australia were benefitting from more than $650m in customer value annually.

And we found that women’s sporting properties outperformed their male counterparts on key sponsorship metrics like brand awareness, brand consideration, and customer conversion.

In other words, and this connects directly into today’s theme, investing in women is not only the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do.

And Corporate Australia, who will be ‘Counting Her In’ in offices across the country today, need to step up.

No more 12%.

At the same time last year, another World Cup was playing out.

The Diamonds took out their 12th Netball World Cup, in South Africa, and while we shouldn’t dismiss the difference between a world championship in our backyard vs one half a world away, it did lead to discussion about how much (or how little) attention women can get in sports media.

This was timely for us at the Office, because behind the scenes, we were already working away with Isentia on what people may have seen released just last week.

The Conversation of Sport report has established a baseline for the representation of women in sports news coverage here in Victoria, specifically in the year leading up to those world cups.

As the Minister shared, we found that only 15% of sports news in the 22-23 financial year was focused on women’s sport, compared to 81% on men’s sport, and that women’s sport was also covered in less depth.

This matters because this is also playing a massive role in limiting the ability for women’s sport to fully professionalise, to build its fan base, to attract corporate sponsors, and ultimately secure broadcast revenue.

It is also acting like a megaphone to community sport, undermining the incredible work being driven by so many of you in the room and online today, in local councils, and in community clubs across the state, to deliver equal opportunities for women and girls.

As the Minister shared, we also found women were only given the opportunity to contribute 27% of bylines, and I’m thrilled to see the early response to the new Change Our Game Women in Sports Media Program launched alongside the report last week.

If you haven’t yet read this report or the Office’s recommendations for change, I encourage you to head to ChangeOurGame.vic.gov.au and take a look today.

I also pay credit to the media and sporting organisations who’ve been engaging in this project for a number of months, some of whom are in the room today.

Through this work, what the Office is saying is that while none of us can change the past; by knowing where we are today, we can aim to do better each day moving forward.

And I think you’ll agree with me that that mindset can be applied in many places.

As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of this year’s IWD theme.

A challenge I have always had working in this space, is when you hear people talking the talk – but not walking the walk.

And this year’s theme cuts to the heart of walking the walk.

I’ve had the great fortune to work in this specific space for 10 years this year.

Which means I’ve had exactly 9 years of being told each year that ‘women’s sport has arrived’.

And that’s barely the start of it.

I was recently re-reading the research by Dr Fiona McLachlan, where she looked at historical coverage of women’s sport dating back to the 1880s, spotlighting that this ‘arrival’ of women’s sport is a narrative we’ve been stuck in for some time – and that it is holding us back from simply claiming and holding our space in sport and recreation.

I’m not sure about you, but I’m a bit sick of hearing that we’ve ‘arrived’.

I want us all to be finally able to put down the mental load of having to justify our place in participating in certain sports, of justifying our right to be leaders, our right to be fans in the way we choose, our right to be safe and respected, and be treated as the equals we are, and instead just be able to get on with it.

Get on with ensuring all women and girls, of all backgrounds, are getting the opportunity to enjoy the full health and social benefits that come with being active, and participating in sport.

Get on with applying an intersectional lens to our work each day that acknowledges the additional barriers and stereotypes encountered by women and girls of colour, First Nations women and girls, women and girls with a disability, those in regional Victoria, and people in the LGBTIQA+ community.

Get on with dismantling the barriers that are seeing girls drop out of sport at a much faster rate than their brothers.

Get on with fair access to community sports infrastructure, and I have been so pleased to see the number of councils who already have their gender equitable access and use policies in place well ahead of the first milestone date of the Fair Access Policy Roadmap of this July.

Get on with ensuring the culture of our industry allows women to thrive, from the start of their careers, through to the most senior leadership roles – where we know the underrepresentation of women, especially in national sporting organisations and professional clubs, is simply not changing fast enough.

Get on with enjoying the benefits of diverse board rooms, and diverse perspectives in decision making roles.

Get on with elite athletes being able to focus solely on their performance, rather than having to deal with condescension.

Get on with being able to offer expert commentary on sport, without commentary instead focusing on the fact it’s a she or a they doing it.

Get on with simply be able to be seen as athletes, as coaches, officials, leaders; instead of being ‘othered’.

Get on with delivering a world where any woman knows she will be safe,

Even if she decides to walk home instead of catching a taxi.

Or if she goes for a run after the sun has set.

Or if simply on a sunny, Sunday morning near her own home.

So, let’s get on with it – and that’s exactly what today’s program is going to focus on.

And this is why you will see the Office and the Victorian Government continuing to invest in driving change, in participation, and the access and culture that facilitates it; in leadership, and the levers to dismantle the myth our sector is currently a meritocracy; and in the visibility for women in sport.

Our end goal hasn’t changed: For equality in this sector that has an influence on our communities, our state, and our country like no other; and for the likes of our Office to no longer be needed.

I’m thrilled to have you all here today.

Let’s continue to Count Her In. To Invest in women. And to accelerate progress.

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