Against the backdrop of last weekend’s Athletics World Cup, presented by Muller, the sixth edition of the Women in World Athletics (WIWA) Conference took place at the London Stadium, this one in partnership with the world athletics federation, IAAF.
WIWA, which was launched by UK Athletics in 2013, has grown as a project. The ambition to bring women from across the world of athletics together was first mentioned back in 2011 as part of the successful bid campaign to host the IAAF World Championships London 2017.
With 2017 now past, a further 40 delegates from 25 countries attended expert seminars in a number of key subject areas.
Day one of the event featured discussion on diversity, governance reform and change management, while the second day focused on more personal aspects, including building a personal brand, leadership processes and mentoring and networking opportunities.
Speakers across the weekend included Olympian and UK Athletics’ lead for diversity and equality Donna Fraser, Olympian and UK Athletics Board Member Sarah Rowell, who delivered the keynote speech at the welcome dinner, IAAF Council Member and Chair of the IAAF’s Gender Leadership Taskforce Stephanie Hightower, Director of Sports Officials Consultancy and active football referee for 29 years, Janie Frampton with a keynote closing speech from IAAF President Sebastian Coe
“The sport of athletics has been one of the foremost advocates for women’s sport for almost a century,” said Coe. “It has long championed equal access to competition and equal prize money and now needs to see the same parity at administrative levels of the sport – from technical officials to coaching and board positions. We have enshrined in our constitution a roadmap for reaching gender parity on the IAAF Council by 2027 with the first female Vice President being elected in 2019. We now need to ensure we have a clear pathway for women to enter and progress in the sport from anywhere around the world and the WIWA is an excellent example of the courses and programmes that have been put in place and are being driven by women in our sport to help us achieve this.”
Rowell, who enticingly opened the weekend’s proceedings with a presentation entitled ‘Never Be Afraid to Be the First Penguin’, took delegates through a journey of recognising convention, the ability to take calculated risks, understanding leadership strengths, and understanding that change can be uncomfortable and sticking to the plan.
“The Women in World Athletics Initiative is important for women on a number of fronts, from a developmental perspective in allowing them to learn and benefit from others, building a network of peers they can access to support their journey,” said Rowell. “It would have been great to have had the opportunity to have been part of something like this earlier in my career, and I hope those involved can take these lessons forward into their everyday lives.”
Cherry Alexander, British Athletics Major event director and founder of the WIWA project, said: “The world is changing in so many ways. Never before has the idea of gender equity and equality been so high up the agenda in every walk of life. We are in many ways blessed to be in a sport that has equality in competition opportunities, competitors and disciplines, yet there is much work to do to ensure that behind the athletes, and in every part of the support and administration, our staff and leaders represent men and women equally.
“I am proud that WIWA is helping to work towards this for the sport of athletics,” she added. “I am also proud of how we have been supported by many male colleagues and leaders in this project. Our thanks go to the IAAF who is ensuring gender equity is a high priority on their change management agenda.”