The Optimisation Hub Report Gender and Mental Health Panel’s

17th July 2020

The Optimisation Hub sent us an overview of their two informative and inspirational panel sessions which took place at the Major Events Virtual Summit. Post panel review chaired and report was written by Graziella Thake CEO the Optimisation Hub, writer, governance & change management specialist, Global speaker.

What is the Mental Tapestry that will underpin our return Sport?

The evolution of sport requires us both in events and sport as a house itself to tidy up how we deal with mental health. What role must mental health play in the post COVID pivot? What is the post COVID pivot and what is the mental health tapestry that will underpin our successful return to sport?

Each of their contributions was enthusiastic and hopeful that we could reconsider the importance of mental health not only for the post Pandemic arena but forward into the necessary skillset for an athlete life.  

Chairing the panel, giving the purpose of the Optimisation hub, it was a pleasure to bring the colleagues and also clients of the Optimisation hub to the panel to disclose the why and the how we needed to adapt. The first question was what was the COVID pivot and the second was how did mental health pay a part?

Our situations in each country were acknowledged as being different but once again we became impressed by the Kosovo President of the Olympic committee’s focus to giving it focus and attention. His drive, as he stated, was why not support athletes needs in these differing and challenging times and try things we had not tried. The Optimisation program has delivered improvements with the athletes and he is so pleased with the outcomes for our Olympians that in future we are having coaches and sports administrators and leaders experience the programs.

Our athletes have changed, and they really get it and they are so happy and so much better off for it.

Jamaica and Kosovo for the experience of the people speaking about the countries acknowledge the role sport generally played in the health and growth of the country and how important it was to understand the way we worked and how we worked together.

Jamaica similarly through Florettes description was based on appreciating how important mental health support had become and the general role that sport had in the health of the community.

We also discussed the mental Health panel in review

Post COVID has been a disruption and in times of disruption, there is an opportunity to be agile, to change, and to quickly advance.  We can use this opportunity to shake things up a bit and to accelerate some of our aspirations, and when some things we are passionate about are challenged, we consider what we are willing to fight for, or continue to aspire to (e.g., gender equity).  Mental wellbeing will be a big issue and sport will play a role in this post covid19.  Sport may look different on the other side.

We all affirmed it was time for sport to return to sport for health as a model and for professionalisation to be truly professional we to address athlete mental health not only by discussion and mental health first aid" and fragmented ag=action by an accessible learning platform or method that was part of sport education

Is sport the last frontier for Gender Equity?

Facilitating a panel of Sports leaders of mixed gender, representative of 6 countries, Pakistan, Jamaica, France, New Zealand, Australia and the UK, I had the great pleasure of bring together close business associates and clients to discuss from the “hot seat perspective “the importance of now as a time to examine this topic that must become an action of visible change. The questions we posed first in our post panel review was what have we learnt from our comparative discussion and are we kidding ourselves or have we changed? Next we discussed 2 panel questions around the non-binary element of the conversation, our equity pathways and the second burning question, when will we see pay equity in sport as propositioned by the audience question,  “World surfing has achieved pay equity, what is holding the rest of sport up?”

Summary of our panel responses:

Jamaica expressed their model for Sport as being a part of their fabric for health and treated genders and competition equally. Jamaica’s population were 51 % female and therefore an active equality trend occurring in leadership with an active support of equality in sport. Pay disparity remains an issue and one that Jamaica is actively embracing in discussion towards action.

Pakistan is ripe for change and addressing this was part of the mission of professional female athletes. The discussion also concerns the engagement of young girls and the mental health of athletes. Sport within the community being a positive conduit for the equity conversation along with mental health.

Siga’ asserted that globally we had to hear more voices advocating and not just talking about it. The Men’s voices were considered far more powerful in this space as women were often seen as feminists or loaded the issue rather than seen as supporting generations of women and non-binary gender. Task forces on race gender and inclusion are an important next action suggested by Florette.

Kosovo Olympic Association President delivered us a unique" let’s do it now”, “why wait?"  perspective of the Kosovo Olympic committee embracing both gender equality and equity as a non-binary conversation. The committee is aligning to be 50/50 gender equity and focused on the development of Grass roots female athlete participation. They recognize sport as a contributor to growing a healthy society in 2020 and beyond.

From the events space we heard Matt from Penni Global Consulting, reflect how his organisation was striving for 50/50 Gender equity. His commentary reflected that in the events industry he still saw a number of women doing the majority of the work, with less powerful voices. He raised a question around what we can do to actively ensure we enable equity pathways and communicating embraced equity.

Dr Farah Palmer from New Zealand comments in the follow up panel review were that the equity conversation was no conversation,  it was an action to embrace all family and community in sport and this could not be binary, as our work was so much more complex and again we toyed with the connect of lets just do this instead of talking about it.

In answer to the question on pay equity from Dr Palmer,

“I’d say why are other sports not offering equal prize money to men and women?  It comes down to sponsorship, what that organisation wants to stand for, whether the women's competitions, tournaments, athletes, are valued and visible?  I don't think it is relevant that women's events may not be as 'long' or as 'fast/strong' as men's events.  If there is a demand then they should have equality with regards to prize money.  Remembering that many of the restrictions placed on women's sports/events (e.g., lower distance, or only 3 sets etc) were put in place by people who believed women were not capable of playing/participating for longer!  And there is also a case for creating demand for female athletes/tournaments by increasing the quality of how these events and athletes are promoted, presented, and packaged.”


In Conclusion

The opportunity provided an opening and an introduction to go forward and we felt that to do justice to the topic needs more time and a response that can provide us with a way forward.

The gender panel was inclusive of multiple races, countries, and mixed gender.

Concrete actions are required to engage in. The confidence that women must put themselves forward for leadership is about getting both genders comfortable with leadership and access to female heroes.

We concluded that we often had women asking for permission to talk about achievements. There was another perspective Jamaica presented which was, numbers are not enough, and participation is not enough.

If we examine the average comparative gap in pay equity its between 62% and 93% in favour of male athletes. The biggest issues appear to be visibility, accessibility and pay. This also models for sport careers in leadership. The burning question we see in the media within the USA, UK and Australia is the 80 percent media coverage of men’s sport and how can this be balanced?

Do we need to adopt Jamaica and Kosovo’s attitude that it’s just 50/50 coverage as we do with the Olympics of all sports and assert the coverage of women in senior leadership positions?

Recently there was only 3 recent of leaders in sport being female. Is media coverage in sports hiding behind the door with old world thoughts that it’s not good for a woman to be too visible, and women need to harden up, that it’s not good to beat your chest to say, look what I have achieved. Women don’t talk about gender issues as much as they don’t want to be seen as “that” women.

Women do need the support of men who can influence and advocate for equity and equality in leadership.

Dr Farah Palmer asserted that advocacy was very important. Getting visible role models and providing opportunities to see where you can find your passion and full potential. Women still come up against barriers and there are structural things we cannot ignore as we can’t keep giving young people hope as they will keep hitting glass ceilings without system change. There needs to be a different mindset about what we see as success and performance and more non-judgemental open mindedness and policing of the communication that segregate women from a comparative lens. NZ focusses on participation, value, and viability and also leadership what can we do to get gender diversity to be present.

Under duress we often see the first things to get dropped are diversity and inclusion and reverting to the core stuff that builds revenue. Dr Farah Palmer was the first women appointed to the rugby board in NZ in 124 years. Often the pathways to get there are quite challenging.

Our thoughts were, we have a population now who possibly won’t accept what we have till this time and if we are to give this audience that participated in MEI, summit online there is an opportunity for new determinates to facilitate equity dialogue, equity behaviour and equity leadership. Systemically we need to examine that corporate set this trend a decade ago.

There is no need to lag behind, we need women to support and to be present and have increased sponsors in sport and leadership by women. We must be honest that women often determine the spend so tap into where our spending power and responsivity to get sport to be commercially viable by taking up some of the positive suggestions made. We want people to focus on what female leaders are saying and what women are saying and participating in. Celebrating and reporting on this as much as sport can be an education system for communication, we reflected that sport is a mirror of community or a change agent of community? Can we change the dialogue? Sport provides us with an “ok " platform to push the boundaries.

Sport in Jamaica is a way of life and used for educational advancement and a whole of family activity that drove community.

Working together and having co-operative competition is the core with a family and community centric building block that celebrates achivements equally and a change in language would be necessary. If we ensure we practice things differently and change our practice rather than just talking about it what would the picture look like as we seem to be asking for permission for equity rather than just performing to the norm of equity.

MEI Panel questions requested for answering in more depth due to limited time on the day

Antonella Carouse

Should we include the broader conversation about the broader than binary gender conversation?

This is a challenging question as we tend to talk about men and women as if they are binary and it is not as clear cut. Opening the way, we think about gender will be helpful so we should perhaps open this to non-binary rather than just binary.