Forward Together: Sport Leaders Share Their Gender Equity Journeys

Sport organizations face complicated challenges in trying to make their sports more inclusive to women and girls. For the last year, Canadian Women & Sport has been supporting sport organizations to understand their own gender equity opportunities and develop action plans through our Gender Equity Playbook program.

In February of 2021, Canadian Women & Sport held a panel discussion with sport leaders who have taken part in our Gender Equity Playbook program as they share key factors that helped them create change.

Here are a few key insights from Consuelo Zayas, Chief Financial Officer, Alpine Canada; June Sterling, Project Coordinator, Baseball Canada; Julie Gosselin, Vice President, Baseball Québec; and Richard Way, Chief Executive Officer, Sport for Life Society. In our conversation, these panelists shared what they learned in their assessment experience, including how they built the right team to tackle gender equity challenges, worked to change the culture of their sport, and collaborated with other organizations to increase their success.

*This transcript has been edited for flow and clarity.

© Denise Militzer / Canadian Women & Sport

Greer Gemin (GG): What we have heard repeatedly is that implementing gender equity needs to be a collaborative process. Who needs to be involved in this process to make sure these initiatives are successful? 

Julie Gosselin (JG): Collaboration is key. I am not saying that because we are a team sport, but that is why we have had success. We changed the narrative at Baseball Quebec when we started discussing gender equity as a key priority directly at the board level first. So that was really the board that decided that this would be a priority for us and then everything we do will be included to think about.

Then we went to what we call the president commission – so the president of each of our regions – and then bring in all our employees, both in regional and local associations. So, it was really a step-by-step approach but, I will never forget the moment we were in one room and all the presidents raised their hands to say they will commit to the plan, and they will act on it.

The step-by-step approach was really to make sure we had everyone on board, asking questions, making sure it was clear for them on how we can succeed to change the culture in a structured way. We set clear ambitions and goals that everyone had, and we encouraged each other to share our challenges but mostly to challenge the status quo.

GG: What assumptions were challenged through the assessment process with Baseball Canada? 

June Sterling (JS): This is the most important thing we have done so far in this area. Other organizations that I have worked with have just jumped right in, where doing this tool brought to light where you really are in your work. We thought, we have a national women’s team, 50% women in the office and mechanisms for dealing with harassment but at the end of the day, we are not equitable because when we dug deep with this assessment tool*, we found we were just skimming the top of it. It is helped us know that we can go a lot deeper with our work and the interesting thing for me was when I worked on it with our executive director, I always thought he saw things the same as I did, and I was wrong. We see things very differently and that shows me that we have work to do, but we are all willing to do the work.

GG: In our conversation you mentioned that it takes honesty and guts as an organization to say you are not good at something. Why do you think it is important to be honest in this process about where you can improve in building gender equity and diversity in your organization? How can you do this without being defensive or confrontational? 

JG: This is so true. We need to make sure that we are creating a safe environment to speak freely and to trust each other and I think where we were successful in our work with Baseball Canada and the other provinces, was when we completed the assessment. It is easy to answer the questions within the Gender Equity Self-Assessment Tool with things that we would like to do. Or something that we are starting to do. But that is not the point. We are really trying to know what we are doing right now.

So, it takes guts. At the end when you are looking at all the questions, it might not be overly positive, but it is a good thing because we know exactly where we are starting, and it is going to be easier to explain our story.

So, we really need to ask ourselves this hard question. It is not a competition, it is not a task, it is really a reality check. And if you genuinely want to solve the problems and get innovative ideas, you need to be honest and learn from it.

GG: The idea that there should be accessible, inclusive pathways to sport is key to the Sport for Life culture – how did this process of going through the gender equity assessment help you build on that existing work? 

Richard Way (RW): What we have tried to do is support staff in terms of taking training. We are grateful around the Gender Equity Playbook because again it allowed us to have those conversations that Julie talked about. Those conversations helped us to look at the diversity of our organization and allowed us to see where we had gaps and what we needed to address.

We are also fortunate to have very engaged, eager, young staff and their expectations just in how they see the world is more evolved than people who were born in the 50s and 60s. Their expectations are so much more around learning and how they see the world in a much more balanced way. So, it is not a re-training but an opportunity to understand more and in doing that allows us as to empower at all levels of the organization. It must be engaged at all levels of the organization. In terms of the passion of our younger staff and then that feeding right up to where there is a commitment at the board level to ensure that these things are entrenched organizationally.

GG: You mentioned that Alpine Canada took up this work because you wanted to be more representative of the community you serve. Can you talk about why that is so important and the risks that exist when an organization does not represent their community? 

Consuelo Zayas (CZ): The Federal Government set a standard for the nation when a gender balanced cabinet was introduced for the first time in Canadian history in 2015 and the reason provided was “Because it’s 2015”.  It is now 2021 and the reasoning still stands as women represent 50% of the population and have earned the right to be represented at every level.

Additionally, exclusivity is a financial risk. Organizations that do not represent the communities that we are trying to inspire will become obsolete. Funding partners seek out organizations that are aligned with the community and that reflect their own values and that means having an inclusive culture and organizational structure that considers diversity in all aspects of the organization. Diversity is about diversity of thought which is what gives an organization the resilience to meet challenges and grow with the community.

*The assessment tool referenced is the Gender Equity Self-Assessment Tool.

Panelist Bios 

Julie Gosselin, ASC. C.Dir., Vice President, Baseball Québec 

Julie Gosselin is Assistant Vice President, Advisor Sales Support, at Sun Life. She is the first woman to be appointed president of Sports Québec, she is also vice-president of Baseball Québec and, a member of Baseball Canada Gender Equity committee. She completed the University Certification in Corporate Governance from the Collège des administrateurs de sociétés (CAS) to become an ASC and Chartered Director (C.Dir.) from The Directors College. Prior to joining Sun Life, Julie worked at RDS and participated in the broadcasting of the Olympic Games in Vancouver and London.

June Sterling, Project Coordinator, Baseball Canada 

June Sterling comes from a family of four girls, raised by a mom who never had the opportunities to realize her worth. She took on the persona of a “tom boy” in hopes of being taken seriously and embraced things like sports and fitness. After making a career switch to chase her dream of working in the sport world, she landed in her current role as Project Coordinator and Safe Sport Liaison for Baseball Canada. She works hard for equality in sport, but other professional areas as well, to pave the way for future generations, and works to bring gender, equity, and diversity to baseball. One of her proudest accomplishments is raising her daughter to be a strong woman. 

Richard Way, Chief Executive Officer, Sport for Life Society 

Richard is the CEO of the Sport for Life Society and an architect of the Long-Term Athlete Development Framework. Richard has facilitated the use of Long-Term Development in Sport and Physical Activity for over 60 sports in more than 100 countries, and co-authored the book, Long-Term Athlete Development, with Istvan Balyi and Dr. Colin Higgs. Throughout his career, Richard has been an innovative leader, a catalyst for advancing quality sport and developing physical literacy; throughout the course of his career, he has contributed to more than 100 resources on sport and physical literacy development.  

Consuelo Zayas, Chief Financial Officer, Alpine Canada 

Consuelo Zayas is an accountant with 20 years’ experience managing accounting and human resource teams.  She is proud to be the first African Canadian to hold the lead finance management role in every organization in which she has worked and thrives when building and leading a dynamic team environment focused on achieving key organizational goals. As CFO at Alpine Canada Alpin, Consuelo applies her technical expertise and experience in making Canada’s national ski team a best-in-class National Sports Organization.