WATCH: OFI Gender Equality in Sport Online Series – Leadership

Week two of the OFI Gender Equality in Sport Online Series focused on leadership, and specifically on why we need gender balance at decision-making levels, with Cliona Foley as mc.

Today’s first speaker was Dr. Jennifer Cassidy, a lecturer in Global Governance and Diplomacy at the University of Oxford and is a respected and recognised speaker in the area of digital diplomacy, women in leadership and feminist foreign policy.

Cassidy spoke about moving the focus from numbers to substance,

“We always ask the question in gender equality and equity – how many women are there on leadership boards, how many women on entry level. While that is a worthy question, and one we don’t want removed or diluted in the slightest. We need another spotlight – and that is where are the women.”

She also highlighted the need to ensure we don’t create a divisive conversation by applying gendered traits to men or women,

“We need to note that in times of crises or otherwise, while we are seeing women excel – this is a symptom of good governance and healthy societies and good institutional frameworks as a whole. This shows that they have not emerged in a vacuum  – we do not want to include gendered traits with women and men themselves. We do not want a more divisive conversation, we want a more inclusive one.”

When asked by mc Cliona Foley about what stops women from getting into positions of power, Cassidy explained that a lot of women don’t put themselves forward for positions, giving a personal example of how she didn’t apply for her current role, as it was not a role previously held by a woman. She talked about the importance of mentorship and described how if you can’t see something, you can’t be it, and said,

“It is having people saying you are good enough, apply.”

The second speaker was Deirdre Carbery, former captain in the Irish Army, and gender advisor across a number of sectors.

Carbery talks about inequality being a key driver of conflict, and talks about the many barriers that are faced by women around the world and the commonalities with respect of the challenges and the barriers with which they are faced in terms of cultural, social, religious and economic barriers. She describes how policies don’t necessarily lead to change, concerted actions are what lead to change.

“Leadership is the driving force behind this change because without leadership an equality strategy, or a nice set of new organisational values which promotes equitable principles, I have seen them just gather dust, sit on shelves and filing cabinets. Leadership can and should occur at all levels within an organisational structure. Those without a leadership title can also be key players and key influencers within an organisation. One of my favourite groups to focus on is tomorrow’s leaders.”

She encourages leaders to action change saying to accept that we can do better, and talks about how effective leadership is being accountable for our actions, and holding other people accountable for their actions.

“First of all look at self-reflection before then moving looking at organisational reflection, and asking ourselves as leaders, how will I or how can I contribute to this effort. Or really importantly asking how will I hinder this reflection. As leaders we must first of all accept that barriers do exist to equitable participation.”

Carbery talks about exclusionary language, and how we should not underestimate the impact of language to the end user, offering an anecdote from an officer who always addressed the room as male, which in turn made her less comfortable contributing her own  ideas.

“We need to know as leaders that what motivates one leader, might have the complete opposite effect on the person next to them, and the person next to them could be the next Katie Taylor.”

The final speaker was Tricia Heberle, Team Ireland Chef de Mission for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Heberle is an Olympian, Olympic Coach, and now leading Team Ireland to the Games.

Heberle talks about how diversity is important on her leadership team. The biggest challenge she faces is how to bring the team together for Tokyo, and how there are things that you can control, and things that you can’t. She enjoys the diversity of style and personality, as well as diversity in backgrounds.

“People don’t set out to be great leaders, they set out to make a difference. It’s never about the role or title, but about influencing others, helping and supporting them.”

In order to build capacity in an organisation, you need to give people opportunities, create a legacy, and be able to delegate,

“If one person is making all of the decisions, and you never give people an opportunity, then perhaps embedding change, or embedding some new direction or sustainability of driving new outcomes is never going to happen. Most of the time we don’t necessarily understand the capabilities of the people we work with. If we pigeon hole them then we miss great opportunities. Looking at that big picture, you can enhance the whole experience for everyone, and identify new leaders coming through.”



  1. We must alongside asking the question ‘how many women’ we ask ‘where are the women’?
  2. The burden or representation must shift, alongside women putting in the effort for their fight for justice, men must put in challenge and effort.
  3. The notion of 1 in 3 – just because we may hit a target doesn’t mean that the one women or two women on a board represent all women.


We should see sports as a vehicle to challenge the stereotypes and to dispell the myths around femininity and what makes the woman, start seeing women as strong, courageous, aggressive and brave – and start understand the origins of sport. Leadership shouldn’t be comfortable or easy – we should proactively surround ourselves with points of views and opinions that are different to our own as well.


As a leader you have a great responsibility. When people think about leaders it is about being able to leave your mark in an organisation well after you have left the organisation.

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