Reflecting on this year’s WSLA experience – Women in Leadership roundtable

It was such a privilege to host another virtual Women in Leadership roundtable last month, this time on the theme of ‘Women in Sport Leadership’ with fantastic input from people who attended the WSLA (Women’s Sport Leadership Academy) Residential Week 2022.

Leading Edge facilitated this residential back in June and it was a pleasure to invite some participants round the table (introductions to follow) to join Dr Suzanne Everley, WSLA Programme Development Lead, and Tina Dullaghan, Leading Edge Team Coach and WSLA 2022 Co-facilitator (Leading Edge Team Coach Sarah Wright also co-facilitated).

And what a rich and inspiring roundtable it was!

Our work with WSLA created a natural link for discussing women in sport leadership, and this was also a great opportunity to keep the WSLA network strong, to hear reflections around impact a few months on, and to explore thoughts and beliefs on what needs to happen for system change.

So much to cover… but first, our wonderful participants:

  • Nic Wilson – Head of Development, Cricket Scotland
  • Anne Vermaak – Chief Executive Officer, South African Gymnastics Federation
  • Louise Wright – CEO Triathlon Scotland, Chair Snowsport England and Board Director GB Snowsport. Louise is a former participant of the WSLA Residential Week and co-facilitated this year’s event




WSLA – experiences, hopes, aspirations, impact

We kicked off with experiences of participating in WSLA and the impact it’s now having.

Nic described how WSLA helped her to find both a sense of belonging and strategies for overcoming those niggling feelings of self-doubt that can pop up unexpectedly. Self-doubt linked to someone’s ‘right’ to be in a leadership role – and how vital it is to reach out to someone in a similar position for support when it does surface – came out strongly through reflections from many WSLA participants.

For Louise, WSLA’s lasting impact is the encouragement she felt to step out of her comfort zone and go for those Board roles. Louise coming back to co-facilitate WSLA 2022 is such strong testimony of the impact it had on her career and her commitment to helping others looking for that same inspiration to step up. WSLA participants have described how impactful it was to spend time with someone like Louise who, having stepped out of her comfort zone, is now working at the level she aspired to.

Anne’s WSLA highlight focused on the amazing environment she was in for that residential week. For her, this meant feeling that she belonged – and this sense of belonging gave her the opportunity to truly be herself and feel valued, and to throw herself into the activities and come out the other side with clarity and determination.

The absolute need for system change in sport leadership was at the heart of all experiences shared. There’s a lot that’s wrong right now. But Anne described an epiphany moment during WSLA 2022 that was driven by her thought of “What if it all goes right?”.


Shifting the dial for women in sport leadership

Our conversation moved on to consider what’s needed to shift the dial.

Suzanne touched on joint research by the University of Chichester and UK Coaching into ‘Female Leadership in International Sports Organisations’. This backs up feelings shared at the residential that when female participants go back to their roles armed with energy and application to make a change, the environment needs to be open to embracing a cultural shift. She explained that to drive this shift, thinking is moving away from the language of ‘allyship’ – you’re not on your own – to language around ‘coalition’ and the benefits to organisations of having a diverse set of voices heard.

Where quotas are useful to ensure diversity, they only work when there’s real engagement at Board level, along with rules for implementation and sanctions for non-compliance. Without compliance measures, the dial doesn’t shift at all.

The research summarised that for real change to happen requires ambition around deadlines and target/quotas with compliance measures; training, support and engagement for future female leaders; and women’s committees that have both status and power, with men involved.


What does the future hold?

I love how our Women in Leadership roundtables always leave me feeling energised, so I obviously had high hopes for some seriously motivational responses to our wrap-up theme of ‘time travel’.

I asked Anne, Nic, Louise and Suzanne to look ahead to a place in the future where they’re happy, they’re flourishing and there’s a higher level of women in sport leadership – and to describe what they see and hear. Two strong themes came out: it’s a place where everyone is focused on taking sport forward because sport is good for everyone; and it’s a place where we’re not having these conversations… because women in sport leadership is the norm.

Suzanne’s response said it all: “I’d hope that I’d no longer be Development Lead for WSLA but that I’d be Development Lead for a Sport Leadership Academy without the need for the ‘W’.”

So, thanks again to everyone for such open sharing around the virtual table – and I look forward to continuing the much-needed conversations about system change in our next roundtable with an amazing group of people who are out there right now sponsoring this movement and helping to shift the dial.

If you’ve enjoyed this and want to listen to previous Women in Leadership roundtables, then head over to http:// and play back our discussions on the theme of leading with love from earlier this year.





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