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Sport provides lessons for business success

Diane Smith-Gander’s early lessons came from sport.

A keen basketballer and an introvert, it was through sport that Diane first learned about her introvert preference and that it did not always lead to success.

“I was young and I thought at the time that it didn’t matter if I wasn’t seen as a friend by my teammates. I thought, as long as I could pull my weight on court then things would be fine – wouldn’t they?

“But it turned out that part of being able to pull my weight on court was being able to co-exist with my teammates off court so I could understand what was important to them and be more empathetic and tolerant of their different styles.

“I was prepared to change my natural preference because my Dad, who was an elite athlete in his own right, had also given me a very strong competitive gene. Basketball was the sport I was best at – giving me my greatest chance of competitive success. So, to remain part of the team I had to keep playing to my strengths but work around my weakness.

“These were the lessons that I took into my corporate career and it has been important to my success.

“I want every girl to have those opportunities so I want to bring an even playing field to the playing field.”

Those lessons that Diane learnt from her sporting days have helped her succeed in business.

She is currently the Chair of Zip Co, DDH1 Drilling, UWA’s Business School Advisory Board and the Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA) as well as holding director roles with HBF, AGL Energy, Keystart Loans and Methodist Ladies College. She is also the Independent Chair of the Nominations Committee for the World Anti-Doping Agency.

However, it was a move to regional Queensland which shaped her career.

“Back in the last century I was asked to leave a Sydney headquarters job in Westpac and move to Queensland to run a branch network in the country.

“It was a long way out of my comfort zone but it taught me to run a real business with revenue and costs, my accountability, and lots of staff and customers to manage.

“I was asked to ‘ring the cash register’ for the shareholders and having this focus changed my aspirations for impact.”

Diane said breaking the bias meant that everyone gets an opportunity to participate at all levels of our wonderful Australian way of life.

“Given that sport is such a huge part of Australian culture, I was horrified, but I guess not at all surprised, to learn that the first time a woman was elevated to the Board of a major Australian sport was only in 2005,” she said.

“There are board seats available for suitably skilled women where someone can make a strong contribution to the management of the sport while getting real world governance experience. The industry will grow as we learn to focus better on wellbeing, balance and mental health, all areas where sport has a positive role to play. Related roles in health will broaden into sport.

“But at the end of the day, we are moving to a world where participation will be gender balanced, spectators will be gender balanced so the voice of women to ensure sports secure their fair share of female participants, eyeballs, bottoms on seats and therefore revenue will become more important.

“The commercial of sport is with us for good and that is the place to play off field.”

She said the sport industry needs to aspire to gender balance based off participation and fans.

“Set real targets with teeth for gender balance and ensure that there is equal pay and good flexibility. This will push towards breaking the bias because it allows women to participate more and their voice to be heard,” she said.

Diane’s advice for young women making their way in sports administration is to start early.

“Get involved in your sport as a player representative, join committees, understand sport from all angles. Then you can understand early on what is involved in governance.

“I was the player representative at WA Basketball in my 20s and secretary of my association when I was a teenager. Make sure you build commercial skills along the way also. You need to be financially literate and digitally savvy. These are the skills most in demand.”

In the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours, Diane was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in recognition of her distinguished service to business, to women’s engagement in executive roles, to gender equality, and to the community.

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