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5 Questions with Sarah Styles

Sarah Styles

Q1. What’s the best part of your job?

When you’re able to have a conversation that is no longer in the “too hard” basket. That is one of the biggest markers of change for me. When something that in years past was viewed as impossible, or too far a reach, is now on the table and unexpected allies emerge to help something come to pass.

Q2. What skills have been the most useful in your work?

Honestly, it’s probably a combination of three.

1. A greater appreciation of the role of empathy in leading successful change than when I first started working in sport. It's rare to come across someone who simply doesn't believe women and girls should have equal opportunities in life, and yet we find ourselves with significant opportunity gaps almost anywhere we look in Australian life. Understanding the basis of someone's resistance is key to dismantling it.

2. Being able to draw on a business lens. What I do now is worlds away from where I started my career, as a very green, very naive investment banker with Macquarie. The majority of sporting organisations in Australia are not-for-profit. So, being able to appreciate the balance that leaders of these organisations have to have in mind, I find to be a key differentiator in how I approach this work. Women's sport has historically been positioned as the "right" thing to do. If we're going to achieve what we want in this space, we need more people focused on it also being the "smart" thing to do.

3. A fervent belief that no one should have paths closed off to them because of where they came from, or what they look like, or whether they are able-bodied, or even simply where they did or didn't go to school. It might be odd to choose this as a skill, but having an unquestionable sense that we're not achieving what we could as a state, as a country, until we put aside the belief we’re operating in a meritocracy, helps to cut through the noise and focus on how we're going to get there.

Q3. Who or what in the media inspires you?

People who ask great questions. That’s always a stand-out for me. Those who, in just a few words, have the ability to cause people to stop and really consider their position and cut through the spin. Questions that lead to authenticity.

Q4. What’s the most useful advice you’ve had?

Don't forget to listen to your gut. Letting myself, or perhaps reminding myself to, is the better description, take a step back and tune in with myself was some kind advice many years ago.

I remember when I was initially approached about my first role in sport (the first Head of Female Engagement at Cricket Australia), I started testing the role with a few people in my network. This is 2014 mind you, and the landscape for women in sport was very different. Almost every person, and these are people whose opinions I value enormously, told me it would be the wrong move. "Tokenism" was mentioned more than once. The rational call at that point would've been to pass. Ultimately, what was being offered was something I really wanted to have a crack at - playing sport and being swept up in watching live sport had always been such a source of joy (and competitiveness, let's be honest), and knowing others weren't having that experience was something that needed to change.

Q5. What are you looking forward to?

A future where roles like mine are no longer required.


Sarah Styles, Director, Office for Women in Sport and Recreation Victoria


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