More than 200 leading figures from the world of athletics came together in Budapest on Thursday 24th August 2023 for the gender leadership seminar ‘Moving Mountains: One step at a time’.
In her seminar welcome, Stephanie Hightower, who is Chair of the Gender Leadership Taskforce, outlined some of the key milestones in the work undertaken so far, but reiterated how there is still more to be done.
“Today is a reflection of the importance of gender equity to people at all levels of our sport, from all corners of the world,” said Hightower. “We have come a long way since the Gender Leadership Taskforce was established I don’t think any of us could imagine just how much we would accomplish in such little time and the massive milestones we would hit.”
Outlining some of the milestones, Hightower added: “In 2016, President Coe led a campaign to change the sport’s constitution, making gender equity a key part of the new governance reform plan. In 2017, as a core component of this plan, the Gender Leadership Taskforce was created.
“One of the biggest targets of the plan was to achieve gender parity on the World Athletics Council. The targets that we put in place in were to be phased in, so we thought 30% gender parity on the World Athletics Council in 2019, then 40% in 2023 and finally we were hoping that we would have 50% parity in 2027.
“I am thrilled to say that last week, we reached our 2027 goal four years early – we have 13 men and 13 women that are on a fully gender balanced council. The first ever in a global sport.
“While this is a tremendous accomplishment, we still have work to do. We don’t want to lose the momentum. There are still many areas in our sport where there are big gaps in female representation, including in the administrative ranks and in our coaching ranks.
“We need to continue to work hard to provide the necessary education, support and policies to increase the amount of women in the pipeline for these roles because – as President Coe mentioned at Congress last week – we need to be an organisation that reflects the diversity of our sport, and the more diverse and inclusive the organisation, the better its decision making will be.”
The panel featured coach Vicky Huyton, founder of the Female Coaching Network and co-host of the gender leadership podcast; Susan Kamau, Chief Administrative Officer at Athletics Kenya; Max Siegel, CEO at USA Track & Field; and Adille Sumariwalla, World Athletics Council Member.
As well as commenting on what has changed, the panel also exchanged ideas on how it might be possible to build on that movement.
“The one that stands out for me the most is the conversation around gender leadership,” said Huyton, discussing what has changed. “Sometimes, the conversation around gender, as with many other topics, can be polarised, but I think now people are realising that we do need more women at the top, whether that be leaders or coaches, it’s just that they don’t necessarily know how to get the women at the top.
“I think the biggest opportunity is actually changing the narrative. We hear all the time ‘there are a lack of women’, ‘there’s a lack of female coaches’, ‘a lack of female leaders’. But especially when we are talking about the elite end, and the conversations we are having now, there are a lot of skilled women that are more than capable of being CEOs, head coaches, performance directors. If we can flip it around, to rather than trying to find more women, actually look at the women that we already have, and give them the roles.
“What is happening in different countries is that those incredible talented women are having to create their own opportunities. It’s about saying, we do have the women – let’s now give them the opportunities they deserve.”