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Thursday , May , 26 2016

Inspirational discussion with leadership and diversity top of the gender agenda

The need for more women in leadership roles in sport, gender diversity in horseracing not conquered yet and a call for women to commentate on more sport – a few of the topics covered by the 2016 Grand Women’s Summit.

"Strengthening the number of women in leadership roles in sport is key to addressing gender balance at all levels," said Judy Murray, one the most influential figures in tennis, at the second Grand Women's Summit held on ladies day of the Crabbie's Grand National Festival at Aintree Racecourse.

Judy joined Rugby World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi MBE, Shelley Alexander; BBC editorial lead for women's sport and Nick Rust; Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Board on the panel, which was hosted by Channel 4 Racing's Tanya Stevenson. A room of 125 delegates heard the speakers’ experiences and views on gender diversity in sport at the summit hosted by Aintree Racecourse and Women in Racing.

Maggie Alphonsi spoke on her transition from rugby to presenting sport. "Since retiring from playing rugby and moving into broadcasting I'm much more aware of the men to women imbalance in presenting roles and on the administration side of rugby. I had to put myself out there as the only female pundit on men's sport and want to encourage other women to do the same so it becomes normal to hear women commentating on sport across all subjects."

Nick Rust added: "Horseracing has plenty of positive stories in terms of women competing on a level playing field. Female jockeys are literally shining beacons, but there are not enough of them at leading level. There has also been a shift of more women in racecourse management roles but we have not conquered things yet and there is work to be done with regard to improving horseracing gender diversity in the administration, participation and engagement side of the sport."

Management and diversity

Nick also announced that in November 2015 The Horsemen’s Group, the Racecourse Association and the British Horseracing Authority came together to work on strategy, recognising that working in isolation is not the way forward to influence perception and attitudes and bring management and diversity together.

During the discussion Judy outlined her approach when establishing her Miss-Hits programme. She took the time to ask what stopped youngsters, girls in particular, in taking up tennis or prevented them from carrying on in the sport and addressed each one. She delivered a programme that tapped into existing workforces that young children were already familiar with and didn’t have to be run by tennis coaches. The approach is gentle, child-friendly and contemporary. It gradually builds up co-ordination and confidence in comfortable and social environments providing the skills and confidence to then take in to mini-tennis and beyond.

Maggie recalled the event that started her career. At 16 she was selected to represent GBR in Touch Rugby and needed to raise £1,000 to take part. Knowing her family couldn’t afford it she approached her head of year and was told to take a bucket to each class in her year and make a presentation as to why she needed the funds and ask for donations. Her efforts were match-funded and the target was achieved. This taught Maggie a valuable early lesson in confidence and leadership. Her sport has taught her how to fail, how to recover and how to become resilient.

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2016 Summit quotes

Judy Murray

Former GB Fed Cup Captain

“I stepped down from the Fed Cup team this year as I wanted to be a granny… and teach my grand daughter how to dance, of course.”

Shelley Alexander

BBC editorial lead for women’s sport

"I was inspired to take the newly created role as lead for women's sport at the BBC after Lizzie Armitstead won Team GB's first medal at the London Olympics. Interviewed just after she crossed the line to win silver, Lizzie used that moment of glory to highlight the iniquities of her sport. So there were three coaches for the Team GB men cyclists who raced the day before – Lizzie didn't have one. The tactics for the men's race had been perfected over six months whereas Lizzie sat down with teammate Emma Pooley in a cafe a few days before to work out their race plan. To me the implication was that had Lizzie been treated equally then she might have won gold. So here was a job where I could play my part in helping to bring about that change."

Margaret Alphonsi MBE

England Rugby World Cup Winner 

“Life is measured by the impact you have on other people.”

Nick Rust

Chief Executive British Horseracing Authority

“Horseracing is the second highest-attended sport in the UK, next to football, yet 40% of those booking tickets for racing fixtures are women. We need to pay attention to this.”

Katie Walsh

Leading Jump jockey

"I see myself equal to any jockey when on board a horse, but understand that there are some challenges for women involved in sport. If I can be a role model and inspire any young person to consider a career in horseracing that's great. Many people say that if I win the National, I would be the first female to do so, I don’t see it like that, I just think it would be great to win a Grand National!"

"I see myself equal to any jockey when on board a horse, but understand that there are some challenges for women involved in sport. If I can be a role model and inspire any young person to consider a career in horseracing that's great. Many people say that if I win the National, I would be the first female to do so, I don’t see it like that, I just think it would be great to win a Grand National!"

Sally Rowley-Williams

Chair of Women in Racing

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”