Gillon McLachlan promises a more female-friendly AFL

Gillon McLachlan, the AFL’s incoming chief executive, has promised to lead a more diverse, female-friendly organisation than his predecessors. He has also vowed that pioneering female coach, Peta Searle, is not lost to the game due to a lack of opportunity.

Acknowledging the disproportionate number of men in senior positions at league headquarters, McLachlan pledged that women would be promoted to help rectify a glaring imbalance.

In VFL/AFL history, only one woman has sat on the league’s executive at any one time. While women have acted as general managers temporarily, the first was not appointed to a permanent role until human resources manager Christina Ogg joined the league in 2008.

After Ogg resigned in 2012, Dorothy Hisgrove won a new executive position, general manager of people, customer and community, in early 2013.

Two women sit on the AFL Commission – Sam Mostyn was the first appointed in 2005, and has for years championed the promotion of women in the game – but Hisgrove remains the sole woman executive at league headquarters.

“We need greater diversity in our industry generally,” McLachlan said on Wednesday. “I think to do that it has to start at the top, and I’m committed to a more diverse looking industry, and a more diverse looking AFL.”

Asked what had held the AFL back on that front, McLachlan said: “I don’t think it’s been anything specific. I think in the end you just have to make bold decisions and make stuff happen.”

When Andrew Demetriou announced his resignation from the AFL’s top job in March, he said it was a shortcoming of the code that more women had not been promoted to more posts of influence.

Richmond Football Club has since announced an affirmative action initiative, in conjunction with the AFL and Australian Institute of Sport, and will undertake a study to explore the real and perceived barriers to women in the industry and,  from next year, the employment of more women by Richmond.

But for that progress there is continued disappointment on other fronts. Fairfax Media reported on Sunday that Searle, the first woman appointed as an assistant coach in the VFL – no woman has progressed higher in coaching in football – had walked away from her job, citing disillusionment due to the lack of a clear career pathway.

Speaking specifically about Searle on Wednesday, McLachlan told ABC radio: “I think Peta Searle is one where we’ll do what we can to see she gets an opportunity, because someone who obviously is as qualified as her – and I’ve done enough research to know that she’s well regarded – I think to get the ball rolling sometimes you’ve just got to make opportunities and make things happen. And I think we’ll try to do that with Peta.”

Searle worked as an assistant coach to Gary Ayres at Port Melbourne for two seasons, and had a stint at Melbourne last year when she was invited to work with its coaches once a week.

But she has left the VFL and returned to teaching in order to better support her young family. A five-time premiership player and senior coach in the Victorian Women’s Football League, Searle’s aim has been to work permanently at an AFL club.

Among the three visions McLachlan outlined for the code was the aim of it being ‘‘truly representative’’.

‘‘If we do that, I believe we’ll fill every stadium and success will follow,” he said. “I have a clear vision of where I think the game needs to go and we’re going to get there. For me, that vision is about having an unassailable hold on the Australian community. In women, in children, as much as men. From the north to the south, in all communities.’’

McLachlan said there would be a different approach to the way the AFL did business. “The shape and structure of the team will change,” he said, adding it will evolve rather than happen as soon as he takes control on June 5.

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