Diving Victoria knew they had an issue.
As a small state sporting organisation, the Diving Victoria board had previously focused on operational outcomes of the sport rather than taking a helicopter view of the strategy required to grow the sport in Victoria.
Compounded with retirements and resignations the board was juggling various challenges relating to organisational governance, including the growing pressure to meet Victorian Government requirements for 40% women on boards.
So, they changed their governance structure.
At the Diving Victoria AGM in November last year a new board was installed, based on skill set rather than history of involvement within the sport. And five out of the eight members are women.
Vice chair Michelle Skinner, a parent of a diver but with no other history in the sport, helped foster the changes after being asked to be part of a new board.
“We are a small sport and we don’t have a huge amount of resources, financial or otherwise. So for the board it was critical that we had key skill sets covered off.”
“So we approached people to apply based on the areas that we thought were critical to the sport… finance, governance, legal, community, government relations and stakeholders,” Skinner told Change Our Game.
And many of the new appointees were women.
“Some of these women hadn’t been on boards before and others have been on several boards, so we didn’t distinguish between people who had or hadn’t had experience, it didn’t matter. It was the skill set and industry experience that we were searching for.”
Skinner said that in a small sport like diving, with limited resources and a loyal and passionate base of 12 clubs and 800+ members, membership was a little bit skeptical initially. But hopefully they are starting to see, after eight months, that the lack of specific diving experience is not creating hurdles but rather providing many other benefits.
“They (the new board) are people who have a passion for being included and making a contribution and that’s where the value is, along with a diversity of background and experience,” Skinner says.
Recently appointed CEO Megan Simpson commenced in January this year.
“Much of the change to the board happened before I started,” Simpson says.
“However, there were a lot of people concerned about the organisation and wanted to see a change, so the board we have in place now were formally elected by the members in November but had taken up their role in a caretaker position prior to the AGM.”
“The new board are an amazing group of very talented professionals in their own respective fields and many of them sit on boards outside of diving,” Simpson says.
Chair Dr Paul Beech, a former diver and now Australian representative international judge, along with fellow director Hector Simpson, former diver and now coach, both whom have made significant ongoing contributions to the sport, have transitioned from the previous board. It has provided a balance of sporting knowledge and fresh ideas.
Skinner says the whole process has provided a number of key learnings that other sporting organisations facing similar challenges in board gender equity and diversity could find valuable. You don’t need to be a participant or have a background in the sport to have something to offer.
“Look broadly and not just within your sport,” Skinner says.
“Go to parents or people who may have had some involvement - look completely outside of your sport or industry to people who might have an interest. Previous experience shouldn’t rule any potential board member out.”
“Go broadly and widen the net. There are a lot of people that just need to be asked, particularly women.”
“Undertaking a professional nomination process run by an independent committee is critical to ensuring due process, but to create depth in the selection process you also need to go out and ask people,” Skinner says.
“Access the skills and industry experience that you require as an organisation to drive the organisation forward.”
“People, and women in particular, are very good at underestimating their skill sets and their previous experience or work history. Our group is incredibly diverse from a life skills perspective and by going out so broadly we’ve been able to tap into so many benefits.”
Skinner also recommended leaning on the resources of Sport and Recreation Victoria and the Change Our Game staff.
“SRV are fantastic, as is the Change Our Game initiative, and they can always put you in touch with other people who might be interested or provide resources to support you when undertaking this process.”
Case study via Jump Media
By 1 July 2019 all sport and active recreation organisations funded by Sport and Recreation Victoria and the Victorian Government will be required to comply with the mandatory 40% women on boards quota.
The quota was one of nine recommendations stemming from the 2015 Inquiry into Women and Girls in Sport and Active Recreation – A Five Year Game Plan for Victoria. One of the nine recommendations was to ‘Mandate gender balance and good governance principles’. The Inquiry found a minimum quota of 40% should be set for female representation on governing bodies, and that a phase-in period of up to three years was reasonable for change…. and the deadline is fast approaching.
The Victorian Government is committed to promoting gender equality at all levels of sport and active recreation in Victoria.
The introduction of the quota for funded governing bodies is a world first in the sport and active recreation industry and as we approach our deadline, the positive change this process has brought about has sparked interest and acclaim across the country and internationally.