This International Women’s Day, Swimming Australia is joining the millions of people worldwide collectively seeking to #EmbraceEquity.
The 2023 theme asks us to Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
One of the many avenues through which to #EmbraceEquity is to celebrate women’s achievement and, while Australian swimming is fortunate to have countless examples, both past and present, of incredible female achievement in the pool, we also have a number of inspiring female leaders driving the success of the sport out of the water.
In the lead up to International Women’s Day, Swimming Australia is going to highlight those women forging change in the workplace. The final woman to be profiled as part of the #EmbraceEquity series is a lifelong swimming advocate, a former elite athlete, holds a PhD in International Sports Law and is Swimming Australia’s President, Dr Michelle Gallen.
Who did, or continues to, inspire your leadership style?
I think I have learned the most from the people that I have been led by, in the workplace or in other roles. Observing behaviours of other leaders and trying to adopt those that I respect, and importantly avoid those that I don’t, over a career has had a big influence on my own style. I have been fortunate enough to work for some amazing leaders – both female and male – who taught me a lot along the way.
When I think of truly inspirational leaders I have an affinity for those who maintain the integrity of their purpose at personal cost – I think that is true courage. I’m thinking of people like Aung San Suu Kyi, Rosa Parks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kathrine Switzer. Some of them probably didn’t think of themselves as “leaders” but their actions made them so.
Lately I have been doing a lot of work around what values I personally want to bring to leadership roles and, importantly, how to focus on and maintain those values during challenging situations. It is a work in progress!
What brings you the most satisfaction in your role?
Seeing a team of people achieve an amazing outcome. Whether it is a relay team in the pool (so many examples from our Dolphins last year!); the team of event managers, technical officials, supporters and everyone else who helped to deliver World Short Course Championships in December; or a small team deliver a significant piece of work such as the Swimming Australia Disordered Eating Early Identification and Prevention Guidelines; it is always great to see people come together to achieve things they would never have dreamed of as individuals.
Of enormous relevance to International Women’s Day, in my current role I also get a huge buzz from the number and talent of female leaders in our sport. Two-thirds of our Board and 80% of our Executive Leadership Team are female. Over half of our workforce, technical officials and medals won are females. That’s a pretty special type of leadership in a sporting context.
What more needs to be done to foster the pathway for female leaders?
We still have work to do in our coaching space and I think that is something that will take time. I believe that people “can’t be what they can’t see” and that does place some responsibility on our current cohort of female coaches and leaders to step up and take every opportunity given to them, and to promote the path that has led them there. I’m sure that being a pioneer is never completely comfortable! But we need to make equity the norm, to be expected and just par for the course for future generations.
Then it will be on to the next challenge – diversity in leadership across other factors as well as gender…
What advice would you offer yourself if starting your career over again?
So much advice…whether I would listen is a different question! A couple of things that would have helped me out if I’d been able to learn them earlier:
- Don’t let perfection get in the way of good enough
- The word “bossy” just means you might make a good boss
- The greater the achievement, the greater the risks you will need to take to get there – back yourself! There is no safe way to reach big goals.
What does #EmbraceEquity mean to you?
That we can’t treat everyone the same (with equality) and expect equal outcomes – equity will often require different approaches. And that is likely to be uncomfortable sometimes – but we need to sit with discomfort if the equal outcomes are truly important to us.