Sport adds cutting edge, girls told

Girls smashing a hockey puck across a field could be training themselves for a life in the boardroom.

Accounting firm Ernst & Young claims sport helps women develop the characteristics they need to succeed in business.

Its report, "High Achievers: Recognising the power of women to spur business and economic growth", says sport can show women and girls what they are capable of and help them become leaders and decision-makers in traditionally male domains.

The report cites a study by MassMutual Financial Group showing that sporty corporate women think their athletic pursuits give them the edge. The study of executive women found four out of five played sport growing up and 69 per cent said sport helped them to develop leadership skills that contributed to their professional success. Over 80 per cent said sport made them more disciplined.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed, as did the United Nations.

According to Cilla Hegarty, the chief executive of NZ Tax Refunds, the report has credence.

"I do agree with this claim - it does work," she said. "But it's not an exclusive thing, that people who are not good at sports are not good in business."

Hegarty, winner of this year's Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, said many women in business developed a competitive streak through sport.

"Most of them at some stage have been in competitive sport - whether it is at school or varsity, and it gets more toned down as you become more busy."

Hegarty was a serious hockey player in school, and later competed in triathlons and marathons.

"It's absolutely essential. You learn about working in a team - even if you are a singer, when you go out and compete you are part of a team."

You learn about leadership when you get into those sports. You also learn how to deal with failure."

And being a team is exactly what a board is, she said.

"There is a connection - there are so many things you can learn from sport."

AUT management and marketing student Lucy Prebble said sport primed women for the business world, especially when it came to standing up to male counterparts.

"In sport, you need to be strong - and I think as a woman in business you need to be strong," she said. "You can't allow men to push you around because, any chance they get, they will."

But Kirana Intraroon, a commerce masters student from the University of Auckland, had issues with the claims made by the investment firm.

"I think it's a bold claim - it all comes down to how you define ‘good at sports', and how you define ‘good at business', in terms of leadership, performance and profitability," she said.

Intraroon said it came down to personality. "If you're an introvert, you're less likely to be mingling or networking," she said.

Intraroon was in a swimming team for her city in Thailand, before she moved to New Zealand 10 years ago.

"When people say that sports make you more confident, and dealing with people, I don't agree with that at all," she said.

"It depends on what sport you are doing, because with mine, it was so competitive, and you were competing all the time, you're constantly told you're not good enough, that you need to do better, so it affects your confidence."

Joanne Doolan, a tax partner at Ernst & Young, said as China and India's populations grew, women could start to have more impact on the global economy.

"The economic power of this will only be harnessed if women are prepared to step up and be competitive. The link to the sports field may seem tenuous but the same skills are needed to succeed in sport and in business - strong tactical and strategic skills, persistence, hard work and endurance."

Sunday Star Times