Women's football pioneers share leadership insights at Sandringham FC Women in Business Breakfast
Southern Saints coach Dale Robinson, AFLW CEO Nicole Livingstone and Western Bulldogs president Kylie Watson-Wheeler gave fascinating insights into their professional careers and the importance of strong leadership in women’s sport and business, speaking candidly about the evolution of women’s football at the second annual Women in Business Breakfast at Sandy By The Bay on Tuesday morning.
Photo by Jack Bennett
Robinson, Livingstone and Wheeler fronted a Q&A session where they discussed their evolution as leaders, helping women chase their dreams in business and sport.
For Dale Robinson, the lure of coaching appealed to her after an illustrious playing career with the VU Western Spurs in the now-defunct VWFL competition.
“I decided I wanted to give something back because what sport had always given me was the ability to keep learning and growing, and I wanted to apply that to the next generation coming through,” she said.
“The team’s support has been absolutely amazing. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the St Kilda program since its inception four years ago and worked very closely with Peta Searle who’s been an amazing mentor of mine to help me continue developing my coaching.”
Robinson also spoke about the challenge of juggling full-time work as an Australia Post project manager with her role as Southern Saints senior coach.
“Being in projects, I was already working from home a few days a week before COVID so I was well set up for it.”
“Having the support from the Australia Post side of things with workplace flexibility is really important and I’m lucky because my boss is supportive of me and how passionate I am about football.”
After an illustrious career as an Olympic swimmer and broadcaster, Nicole Livingstone is now working in arguably her most important role yet as AFLW CEO. She believes the AFL men’s competition can learn from the flexibility given to footballers and coaches in the AFLW.
“I’m never going to sit here and say I want them to be full time and I think we can learn a lot from the mistakes that the guys have made in terms of being too singular focused rather than having a holistic mindset about your career,” she said.
“Look at Dale (Robinson) who’s got a great career and is doing really well at Australia Post, if she was working full time she wouldn’t have had this sustained long term career in football so I’m really focused on giving players the opportunity to combine work, training and also study.”
Like Livingstone and Robinson, Western Bulldogs President Kylie Watson-Wheeler was a successful business person before entering the AFL industry, working in senior marketing and management roles for Hallmark Cards and The Walt Disney Company where she’s currently a managing director.
The lifelong Bulldogs fan discussed the importance of being authentic and how she surrounds herself with a strong support network of people who believe in her leadership style.
“Throughout my career, I’ve found myself working for companies and organisations that are supportive of me and my style, so as a result, I haven’t necessarily had a lot of hurdles because of that because I’ve found myself in places where I fit nicely,” she said.
“There can be times where you think you have to reinvent yourself or be a certain way, but that’s not sustainable and I think great leadership comes from authenticity. Taking ownership of that journey you’re on is really important.”
Dale Robinson shared a similar view about finding people who supported her to thrive in her time with the Southern Saints.
“I had the conversations with people at St Kilda to say I was ready for a head coach role and to have people like Marcus (Marcus Ashcroft, Sandringham Zebras CEO) behind me was a big turning point for me in terms of the amount I’ve grown this year and the amount I’ve seen our girls grow,” she said.
Nicole Livingstone grew into a broadcasting role after retiring from swimming in 1996, where she had to fight to stay in a male-dominated industry.
“The challenge of reinventing yourself is something I’ve experienced on several occasions now. Particularly once I hit 40, the TV industry was an interesting one to be in from a challenge point of view as contracts were less forthcoming,” she said.
“I had one boss who said he was looking for someone fresher and newer than me, and then they told me they were going to go with a young man who hadn’t had an opportunity to call swimming. That young man was Basil Zempilas who’s the same age as me, so that was a hit to my confidence.”
However, Livingstone was able to keep this in perspective.
“It was important for me to understand that it wasn’t about me, it was about them and the misuse of power to privilege.”
Livingstone said she was proud of her work so far as AFLW CEO and believes the rise of women’s football is helping to improve attitudes towards women in society at large.
“We are improving the position of women and the respect of women through what Australian football is doing with the AFLW.”
As for the future of women’s footy, Robinson, Livingstone and Wheeler-Watson are hopeful the AFL industry will continue making progress on the path to gender equality in 2021 and beyond.
Written by Jack Bennett - Sandringham Football Club Media