Whatever the code and whoever the coach, there are lessons to be learnt from Australian sport’s road to heightened inclusion and diversity.
In the Australian Football League (AFL), the number of Indigenous players has increased nine-fold in 20 years due to active pursuit by talent scouts and inclusion programs. But still, the number of elite, openly homosexual players stands at zero
Jason Mifsud, the AFL’s head of diversity, says the glare of the media spotlight on sport gives rise to many “teachable moments”.
“Unfortunately, part of the difficulty of cultural diversity is that some of those learnings come from challenging situations.”
Mifsud says that, although the best athletes are the ones who should be recruited, history tells us that hasn’t always been the case.
“There is more talent in Aboriginal Australians than opportunity, in business and in sport. Sometimes Indigenous skill sets don’t fit the generic organisational structures, but in some respects they bring a different dimension. The better HR practices are more adaptive of the skill sets and characteristics of their employees.”
Mifsud says the more obvious assets of a footballer, such as speed, agility and skill, are measurable. But the less tangible metrics – for example, creativity, vision and decision-making – are what make players, such as Cyril Rioli and Lance Franklin (pictured) so great.
Why diversity makes good business sense
As the AFL’s first female commissioner, Sam Mostyn had to prove to the traditional male bastion of the game that diversity makes good business sense.
Coming onto the commission in 2005 wasn’t just about acknowledging the so-called women’s issues, she says. It was about how women interact with the game and with sponsorship, the attractiveness of the game and growing the game.
“When I am challenged about the legitimacy of women on the boards or senior management of football codes, I point to the inherent missed opportunities of limiting yourself to only half the pool of available talent,” says Mostyn.
“Investing in diverse groups of people is one of the best ways to ensure the growth and sustainability of the industry and its enduring relationship with the community. We need to move well beyond the old debates of tokenism and political correctness.”
Frameworks needed for change
While progress is being made in the acceptance of Indigenous people in sport, the issue for those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) is still in its infancy.
But the sexuality inequity issue has been gaining momentum with the outcry at the Sochi Olympics over Russia’s anti-homosexual ‘propaganda’ laws, the coming out of former Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe and Sydney’s hosting in August of the Bingham Cup, the World Cup of gay rugby, at which 32 international teams competed.
Bingham Cup Sydney president, Andrew Purchas, a corporate lawyer and founder of Sydney’s first rugby union club for gays, the Sydney Convicts, used the World Cup opportunity to put a spotlight on homophobia in sport.
The result was a national framework for anti-homophobia and inclusion policies, with a history-making commitment by the four major football codes, plus Cricket Australia, to take action to abolish homophobia in their sports. The initiative recommends six pillars for an effective policy: dissemination and training, sanctions and reporting, implementation, review and responsibility, leadership and partnerships.
Purchas says a policy must be driven both from the top and the bottom, but warns that the biggest resistance to change is likely to come from the middle. “That’s usually where there’s the most number of people, and it can be that they are not used to doing things differently.”
Netball Australia made inclusivity a strategic priority a few years ago after realising it wasn’t reflecting the communities it operated in. In May this year, it released its One Netball initiative document.
Community engagement manager, Julia Symons, says all-tier communication is crucial for evidence-based decisions. Staff at all levels have been made responsible for making netball available to everyone, so the document is more than “nice to have”. Staff have to report against it and it is part of their job role’s key performance indicators.
“You can’t sit in your marble towers and create policies without talking to people.”
Dawn Hough, director of Pride In Diversity, Australia’s only not-for-profit workplace program to assist employers to be more LGBTI-inclusive, says survival in the marketplace is dependent on diversity.
“It’s not just an HR feel-good thing,” she says. “Young people don’t just go into a job hoping for longevity or a big pay packet. They are asking, ‘is this employer socially responsible?’”
The 2014 AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Conference, held on 30 October 2014 in Melbourne, will focus on building management practices in the areas of diversity and inclusion. Registrations close 24 October 2014.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the October 14 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Playing for keeps’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.