I wanted to be just like Adam Gilchrist growing up.
I dreamt of walking out to bat at the SCG, scoring the world’s fastest Test double ton, and then backing it up with heroics behind the stumps.
All while playing for the Australian men’s cricket team.
I didn’t even realise there was a national women’s team, all my exposure to cricket (and all my other sporting loves) had come via the men’s game.
So naturally, in my dreams, I was batting opposite Steve Waugh rather than Belinda Clark, or keeping with the agility of Gilly rather than Jodie Fields.
I quickly realised I wasn’t going to be the next anyone in sporting terms — I had the heart, but not the talent or determination required to make it to the top.
But even when I switched gears to become a sports journalist, all my role models in that space were men too.
I wanted to call league like Vossy, or anchor the Olympics like Bruce.
Why sport is for everyone
But sport isn’t a man’s world, it’s for everyone.
And it’s up to all of us working across the industry to make sure that’s the case.
We know there have been fantastic gains in women’s sport in recent years, but let’s be honest — we’ve still got a long way to go.
That’s why ABC Sport has committed to being a force for change in the sports media and accelerating our path to a truly equal playing field.
For the past two years, ABC News has been implementing the 50:50 project, in an effort to improve the representation of women across our programming and offer more content for female audiences.
At the beginning of 2020, the sports news team came on board with the project, and we’ve got four main aims.
• Increase our coverage of women in sport
• Grow our female audience
• Produce more stories targeted to women
• Achieve equal gender representation in our stories
Making women more visible in our coverage
We know women are seriously under-represented in sports news coverage, and it’s just not good enough.
We also know it’s not going to change overnight.
But we have committed to improving our efforts every day so that we can hit parity sooner.
So how are we doing that?
We are commissioning more original stories focussing on women in sport, across all our platforms, including our website, our social media channels, and TV and radio news.
And we’re trying to include a diverse range of women in our stories, involved in every aspect of sport, at all different levels.
One of our major projects this year was the creation of the digital-first video series ‘In Her Words’, which was published across all our social platforms, along with accompanying articles.
We’re also increasing our coverage of elite women’s sport, for example, Brittany Carter produced regular analysis and feature pieces during the Super Netball and WBBL seasons.
And we’ve started to hire female freelancers to add their expertise to our output, with leading basketball journalist Megan Hustwaite currently contributing during the WNBL season.
Tracey Holmes continues to break stories and provide incisive analysis of all aspects of sport on The Ticket, and recently presented a TV/radio special looking at the challenges for women coaches in sport.
And our sports reporters around the network are regularly producing engaging original women in sport features, across all our platforms.
How do we know we’ve been making a difference?
Well, one of the key aspects of this project is to track what we’re doing, so we’ve been counting the number of women in sports stories we’ve been producing across digital and TV.
We were smashing our goals at the beginning of the year, then COVID hit and threw everything out the window.
But we’re back on track and with summer now in full swing, and a feast of women’s sport on offer, we’re hoping for our best results yet to edge closer to that magic 50:50 mark.
What do women want?
We want more women to access our content, and to create more stories that speak to them.
That means producing stories that don’t always focus on the on-field issues or presenting stories in different ways.
It might be tackling eating disorders, or domestic violence in sport, or women’s health issues, or harassment they may face when going on a run, or challenges for women of different abilities in engaging in sport.
One of the main aims of ‘In Her Words’ was to dive into topics often under-represented, but faced by many women broadly in society, like fertility struggles, cultural barriers, body image issues, transgender participation and maternity protections.
We’ve found it’s crucial not just to profile elite or professional sportswomen, but also the everyday people who engage in sport and physical activity — as their stories are often more relatable and appeal to more women, beyond the rusted-on sports fans.
Bringing more women to the front
No matter what sport we’re covering, too often we go to men as the expert voice — and that’s even in women’s sport.
So a key aspect of the 50:50 project has been addressing this, by incorporating more women’s voices into our stories.
We want to bring women into the conversation as expert talent or contributors, including commentators, current/former athletes and coaches, academics, executives, etc.
That could mean interviewing someone like Lauren Arnell for her insights on the AFL draft or going to Lisa Sthalekar for a preview of the men’s first Test between Australia and India in Adelaide.
We have also been tracking our efforts in this area, and while it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster this year, we’re now starting to achieve some consistency in achieving equal representation of men and women interviewed/featured in our stories.
Creating change from within
While a lot of our focus has been on our output, it’s just as important for us to create a cultural change within the organisation.
The sports media is dominated by men and at the beginning of 2020, we were no different.
But thanks to the efforts of ABC sports editor James Coventry, now nearly 40 per cent of our sports team is made up of women.
And we have regular conversations about our goals and are pushing each other to do better.
We have to adjust our own mindsets and challenge the idea of doing things the way they’ve always been done if we’re going to make lasting change.
There’s been broader buy-in too.
The entire ABC News team is dedicated to 50:50, giving our reporters the motivation to pursue more women’s sport stories, as they know it ties into one of our core values.
It also means that when we produce this content, it’s given a chance to succeed, by being given appropriate air time, or space on our website’s front page.
And even when we’re in the midst of the male-dominated winter season, there’s no excuse not to feature women in sport.
There are countless amazing stories ready to be shared, it just takes some initiative to find them.
We’ve also made a big effort to engage with more people outside of the ABC to understand how we can improve.
We recently held an online women-in-sport forum, bringing together incredible people from across the sports industry to give us their feedback.
As a result of this forum, we created a list of recommendations which we’re in the process of implementing.
We know there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, but it’s a long game for us and we’re committed to seeing it through.