Never has a case been made for the state government policy recommendation to include more women on sporting organisation boards than recent events. While the swift condemnation of Chris Gayle's behaviour with journalist Mel McLaughlin by Cricket Australia, Big Bash League and Channel 10 should be applauded, some of the excuses/advice provided mostly by men was gob-smacking.
Female journalist Neroli Meadows pleaded for people to listen to the women who are subjected to sleazy behaviour that undermines their professionalism, and how it makes them feel. Rather than heed this sound advice Gayle excused his behaviour as just a joke, and claimed the reaction was blown out of proportion. Veteran Herald Sun journalist Ron Reed implied McLaughlin should have felt flattered that a "good-looking, wealthy and extroverted sports star" was hitting on her – acknowledging only the inappropriateness of the setting. He also claimed McLaughlin was a winner because now people knew who she was and how great she was at her job. And then Melbourne Renegades chief executive Stuart Coventry tried to divert attention by calling the anonymous person who supported McLaughlin "opportunistic".
If these same people dishing out the advice were prepared to listen to the women subjected to this behaviour, I would tell them this. Women do not choose to be a professional in the sporting industry because they want to find a boyfriend or a husband or so that "wealthy and extroverted sport stars" can flatter them.
They choose to work in the industry for the same reasons men do – they love sport, and like working with people who are passionate about and committed to a game, code or a team. They appreciate the concept of working to be the best they can be. They like the concept of winning, training and getting better. And they like working in an industry that people are genuinely interested in.
When they are reduced to an amusement or a sexual plaything for men, they are discredited, undermined and often intimidated. If they speak up, they fear giving their usually male bosses a reason to remove them from their position – the position they have usually had to work twice as hard as male colleagues to get in the first place.
McLaughlin has not returned to her role with the BBL broadcast, and it appears her bosses are concerned about the grief she will receive from sections of the crowd. Unfortunately, the network has done the very thing we all fear – having the job we worked so hard for taken away, through no fault of our own. I can only hope McLaughlin was consulted and agreed with the course of action, and that it was not imposed on her "for her own good".
If more women were in leadership positions in sporting organisations (and society) perhaps rather than have men offer the advice and make decisions about what is best for the victims of this behaviour, they would listen to how this behaviour makes women feel. Only then will more organisations understand why boorish behaviour is not a joke and how they can best support women to do the roles they work so hard to prove themselves in.
Belinda Dennett was the media manager for the Australian cricket team from 2004–2006.