From the Field of Play to the Board Room – New Zealand Female Athletes Given a Boost

“Empowering women in sport is important to me because sport empowered me. Not only is sport critical for our health but it helps grow people teaching life lessons and developing key skills to be used outside the sporting world.” Sarah Cowley Ross (London 2012, athletics)

Today it’s International Women’s Day and to celebrate, we’re announcing a world-first initiative giving leadership opportunities to female Olympians.

Some of New Zealand’s top female athletes will be trained in leadership and governance, helping them transfer their skills from the field of play to senior positions leadership and in the work force.

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Olympians including Beth Smith (Jurgeleit, hockey), Sarah Cowley Ross (athletics) Alison Shanks (cycling), Tania Tupu (basketball) and Alison Fitch (swimming) have been selected for the first intake to the programme that kicked off this weekend in Auckland.

The Women In Sport Leadership Academy (WLSA) programme will take two years to complete. The first intake includes 18 outstanding Olympians currently active in management or leadership positions within their workplaces.

CEO of the New Zealand Olympic Committee Kereyn Smith says she believes the Academy will help drive the transition from being an athlete to being a leader outside of competition.

“It’s about the transition from elite performance on the field-of-play to elite performance through leadership.

“We have hugely competent athletes with a powerful array of skills and characteristics that have seen them succeed in sport. The Academy will help them go on to contribute to and lead in sport, business, the community and more. It’s hugely exciting.”

Cowley Ross who competed in heptathlon in the London 2012 Olympic Games as well as at the Melbourne and Glasgow Commonwealth Games in high jump, says the Women in Sport Leadership Academy workshop was ‘hugely empowering.’

“To be in a group of such talented and committed women in sport in itself was inspiring and a very empowering experience.’ she said.

“It was a chance to reflect on my own leadership journey to date and for me to consider how I can develop leadership skills going forward to make a difference,

“We need women leaders in sport because we don't have enough of them. Gender inequality in sport exists at many levels - governance, coaching, representation in the media and really throughout sport in general.

“Whilst progress has been made, it's 2017 and it's time for women and men to be bold to allow more women at the table.

“Empowering women in sport is important to me because sport has empowered me. I am passionate about the impact that sport can have on everyone and particularly women. Young girls need strong role models and empowering women in sport helps grow the this critical movement. As sport is part of our national psyche we simply cannot afford to not support and empower women in sport to develop."

The Academy will provide a unique learning environment that will develop confidence and leadership competencies, including career strategies, competence in a range of leadership behaviours, access to mentoring, and a better knowledge and understanding of the women and sport movement in New Zealand and globally.

The programme is delivered using funds awarded to the New Zealand Olympic Committee after winning the IOC World Women in Sport Trophy in 2015.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee initiative is based on a global leadership programme and is the first to be specifically designed for Olympic athletes. The New Zealand Olympians will become part of a network made up of graduates from over 30 countries.

Programme leaders Robyn Cockburn and Pauline Harrison head up a team of facilitators to deliver four workshops and numerous networking and group activities, connecting partipants with female leaders in sport and business. Workshop topics covered will include presenting with style and impact, coaching for success, how to be persuasive and effective, growth mindset and managing conflict.

Sarah Cowley
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