Women of Influence: Women's sport stuck in the 80s, says Susan Devoy

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy will be giving a speech at the Women of Influence Forum and Awards on Thursday.
CHRIS SKELTON/STUFF

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy will be giving a speech at the Women of Influence Forum and Awards on Thursday.

New Zealand is stuck in the 1980s when it comes to women in sport, according to former international squash champion Dame Susan Devoy. 

Devoy spent almost a decade at the top of her sport: She was the women's world number one from 1983 right through to her retirement in 1992.

"Back then, women had about 5 per cent coverage in the national media. Now, let's be honest, I don't think that's changed an awful lot.

The New Zealand Black Ferns won the Women's Rugby World Cup but flew economy class - an example of the lack of attention ...
DAVID ROGERSGETTY IMAGES

The New Zealand Black Ferns won the Women's Rugby World Cup but flew economy class - an example of the lack of attention paid to women's sport, Devoy said.

"The Women's Rugby team has just won the World Cup travelling in economy [class]."

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"I just think that's an area where we haven't made a lot of improvements and yet so many of our athletes are female and doing well on the world stage."

Dame Susan Devoy is the current Race Relations Commissioner.
IAIN MCGREGOR/STUFF

Dame Susan Devoy is the current Race Relations Commissioner.

Devoy, the current Race Relations Commissioner, is set to speak at the Women of Influence Forum and Awards at SKYCITY Theatre on Thursday.

She says her speech will be both an opportunity to reflect on her own life to draw attention to the wide range of issues women face when gender issues intersect with other aspects of identity such as race.

"We're challenged now with being a multicultural society with a bicultural foundation, we haven't quite sorted all of that that out effectively,

"We've focused on gender diversity and talked a lot about women. We've also got to look at Maori and Pasifika and other ethnic minorities because they are the people that are actually affected and suffering the most."

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After retiring from squash, Devoy became a full-time mother.

She gave birth to four boys in the space of five years. She jokes that had she known how many boys she'd have, she might well have continued playing for a few more years.

She considers herself lucky to have had the choice of staying at home to raise children and says that was not a possibility for many couples now, especially in cities like Auckland.

Devoy herself ended up moving from Auckland to Tauranga after commute times made raising a family unmanageable. 

Devoy said she was "astounded" that only one CEO of a publicly listed company was female but said New Zealand was "a bit of a dichotomy" when it came to the representation of women in different spheres of life.

While women were under-represented on boards two women had previously held the post of Prime Minister and then there was what Devoy termed the recent "phenomenon" of Jacinda Ardern's popularity.

"It seems to be easier to be a female or a Maori or Pacific to be represented in Parliament than it is to be a senior executive or chief executive in the public service or private companies."

Many ethnic groups, as well as women, would eventually want to see themselves reflected within the organisations that served them and leadership at the top-level would be needed to make that happen, Devoy said.

Devoy believes such leadership and initiatives were often criticised on the grounds that only the best person for the job should be chosen.

However, the best person might well prove to be someone that added to diversity of thought or helped a company better reflect their target market, Devoy felt.

"They call it the 'diversity dividend' and people who are slow to pick up on that will find out in the end that their businesses are affected.

"These conversations must be led not just by strong, brave women. They need to be led by men, too."

Hear more from Dame Susan Devoy at the 2017 Women of Influence Forum - 7 September. Tickets available at womenofinfluence.co.nz

 - Stuff

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