There has been some confusion about why funding has been sought to subsidise the women’s fly-ins I have organised. Funding has been secured both from within our immediate community (HGFA and state associations) and from the greater community (government organisations). Some people are willing to voice their concerns, and I suspect others are concerned but find it politically incorrect to speak up. I thought I would try to address this issue and highlight why funding diversity initiatives benefit us all.
Increasing the number of women in this sport has advantages for all members. Firstly, by targeting the other 50% of the population who are currently underrepresented in this sport you can make a lot of headway into increasing the the total number of participants. Increase the number of participants and you will increase the market. Increase the market and more people will enter careers that support the sport — schools, manufacturers, software development etc. This is good for everyone in the sport as it encourages equipment innovation and advancement in safety.
Secondly, diversity in any organisation will advance the group. I’m targeting gender diversity but diversity comes in all forms — ethnicity, religion, age, disability — the list goes on. Take a look at sports with very little diversity — you’ll find they tend to stagnate and become “old man” sports — no new blood, no new ideas, dwindling numbers. No incentive for the supporting industries. These sports will die out. How does this happen?
Lack of diversity means everyone has a similar background with similar experiences. The leadership tend not to see any need to change or adapt to the changing environment. You can’t expect an individual to be able to see things outside of their own experience. If you encourage diversity in your membership, and hence your leadership committee, then you have the opportunity to include new ideas. We all see the world in terms of our past experience — if we have people in our community with a wide range of experience we are more likely to come up with innovative ideas to the problems that appear. Here’s an example.
I joined a woodworking group recently. Its a community organisation, mostly retirees. I am the youngest person in this group by at least 20 years. Its about 30% female, 70% male. One of the women here is a relative new-comer and a retired nurse. She injured herself on a piece of machinery (it was not a serious injury) and saw an opportunity to improve safety by establishing an incident register. Unfortunately, she doesn’t feel like she should stand up and push for this. This is a common reaction for her generation. I’m from a different generation and I would stand up and suggest such an action. Its early days for me so I’m still watching how this group works, but the introduction of diversity (gender and age in this example) is likely to improve things here in the following ways. A new member who is not familiar with the way a community workshop operates, but does understand the importance of learning from our mistakes in the field of health and safety (ie a nurse) comes up with a way to monitor incidents. A new member who is from a generation that is willing to stand up and say uncomfortable things, encourages her to do so. The result? Safety is like to be improved.
That is a very small example but the biggest improvements are likely to happen at the board/committee level if we have diversity. It’s super hard to put together a diverse committee when that doesn’t represent your membership. So, we start with our membership. My passion is about encouraging women to realise their potential in the face of unnecessary discouragement. Your passion might be within a different segment of the community, and I’d encourage you to step up and do what you can to increase diversity. But it can be a hard, slow road. We shouldn’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. There are lots of organisations out there with benefactors who want to see diversity improved across the community. There is funding out there just waiting for people like me and you to apply for it and use it to increase diversity in our own organisations. You might even find that your own organisation sees the need for increased diversity and is willing to spend some of the communal funds on achieving those goals. More than likely, it will be up to the committee you voted for to make those type of funding decisions.
That committee has to make lots of decisions, often on a daily basis. They try to ask the members for feedback on the big decisions, but essentially, because we have had the opportunity to either put our hand up to be on the committee or vote for those we want representing us on the committee, we understand that the committee in place is there to make many of the decisions for us.
Its going to be impossible for everyone in the community to be happy with every decision the committee makes. If you feel strongly enough about it, I encourage you to put your hand up to join the committee and actively drive the change in strategy that you seek.
So, asking for funding to increase the number of women in paragliding is not about crying “we are a minority, we deserve free stuff” as some people seem to think. It’s about actively trying to increase the diversity in the sport for the greater good of the sport. When we are no longer a minority there will be no business case for funding advancement in the sport for women specifically. Can’t wait for that day!