Influential individuals from across sport and business gave their perspectives on advancing gender equality in the ITF’s global forum ‘Level the Playing Field’ on Monday 12 April. World class athletes joined senior business leaders to share their experiences, motivations and expertise for how to increase the number of women in leadership positions, grow the audience and engagement in women’s sport and influence the narrative around women’s sport and female athletes.
Billie Jean King opened the event in conversation with Catherine Whitaker, issuing a call to action, saying “We need more women in positions of power, we need women of colour, we need Paralympians, we need everyone! Inclusion is everything.”
King’s motivational interview was referenced throughout the event by speakers, who participated in two panel sessions ‘Change the System’ and ‘See it to Be It’, addressing the key issues related to inequalities in leadership positions and decision making roles, and discussing the portrayal and perception of women’s sports and female athletes in the media and social media respectively.
The event followed the publication of a first of its kind global research project examining sports gender equality across the media and social media, with the findings discussed by the speakers, addressing how both the quantity and quality of coverage in women’s tennis, and sport more generally, can be improved.
Reacting to the research, Billie Jean King said, “The findings were really interesting and verify what most of us in women’s sports already know. We’ve got to change it. We can start making huge change in women’s sport if people would just start talking about us…until they know us, people aren’t interested.”
2-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka summarised her thoughts by saying, ‘As players we shouldn’t be afraid to take a step in a new direction, where the world is changing. I truly believe that we have an incredible product, as athletes and people involved in tennis we should think more forward.”
Annika Sörenstam, a 10-time major champion golfer and newly elected President of the International Golf Federation added, “It takes time to change, but we have to empower each other. There’s so much women can offer…see it to be it. It’s really important to do what you’re promoting others to do.”
Caroline Weir, Manchester City player and Scotland international talked about the power of male allies, referencing the support she has received from Andy Murray, “It goes such a long way when he makes his arguments for gender equality. He’s leading the way in that sense”.
Reflecting on the event, ITF President David Haggerty said, “The ITF is committed to driving meaningful change through our Advantage All strategy. Voice is one of the key pillars of the strategy and through the discussions had during this event and the insight gained from the Ipsos MORI research, we continue to build our understanding of the issues and solutions needed. Thank you to all of the speakers for offering their insight, and to our event partners BNP Paribas for their continued support of women’s tennis and commitment to diversity, and to iSPORTCONNECT for their work in delivering this inspirational event. We now look forward to this weekend’s Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Play-offs.”