Sarah Walsh played for the Matildas for nine years, scoring 32 goals in 70 international matches. After finishing her career, she participated in the first FIFA Female Leadership Development Programme (FLDP) in 2015.
Four years later, as Head of Game Development at Football Federation Australia, she returned to FIFA for the Women in Football Leadership Programme. Here, she talks about self-reflection, diversity and the symbolic power of equal pay.
How did the course in 2015 prepare you for the Women in Football Leadership Programme?
During the Female Leadership Development Programme four years ago, we were empowered to have the confidence to put ourselves forward for new opportunities. Football has developed so much since then, and so have I.
In what ways did the training week this year help you?
The programme focused on self-awareness and personal growth. It offered me the opportunity for self-reflection to identify areas for growth. Additionally, having the opportunity to network with women in football from all over the globe provided me with new insights and the opportunity to share best practice strategies.
How would you describe a good leader?
Good leadership for me is characterised by having the awareness to understand and motivate people around you. I think of people who have the never-ending desire to learn and educate themselves. It’s about being agile and calm under pressure, providing direction when it matters most. It’s about surrounding yourself with the relevant expertise to produce collective team outcomes. Constantly challenging your own thinking.
Why is gender equality in leadership positions important?
It’s about achieving broader diversity. If you want to act for the benefit of the football community, the decision-makers must also represent all parts of the community. Football is the number one sport in most countries. In Australia, football is a challenger sport. If we want to grow the sport, we have to utilise the expertise of everyone – both men and women.
Australia has made great strides towards equality in football lately with the announcement of an equal pay deal. What is the significance of that?
There are milestone moments that represent symbolic gestures of change. Equal pay in Australia is one of them and has shifted the needle for other parts of the game. If men and women can come together to design a model that benefits the five-year-old girl and the five-year-old boy, then this is a huge step forward for all. It shows that attitudes and beliefs are changing.
What other actions are needed to increase the number of women in decision-making positions and to promote gender equality?
We should think about the structures in place and ask ourselves: are they designed to include or exclude women? Additionally, it’s necessary to continuously grow the talent pool. If you look at the football database in Australia – coaches, referees, administrators– only a small percentage are female. Our goal is to achieve 50 per cent female representation in football at all levels by 2027. It will take collective action from all members of our football community to reach this target.