Some of the gender-based treatment she had received in roles where she was the only woman in the room had left “scars”, she said, and while “sport doesn’t cause violence against women, a culture which enables discrimination can”.
“Anyone who’s been involved in sport as a participant, in a support role, coaching, administration or in decision-making roles, management and governance [would know] there is casual sexism, there is structural sexism and inequality,” she said.
“Because sport comes from a male-dominant origin, those things build up over time and become a natural part of the sporting system and an assumed part. There’s no conscious awareness of the gender bias; subconscious bias is a big part of it.”
In executive positions which included being the only woman on the board of cycling’s global body and an AFL CEO, Ms Gaudry said she had been on the receiving end of comments that showed sport still had a big problem with “everyday sexism” that can pave the way for worse treatment of women.
Everyday sexism she had experienced included being questioned over a board lunch where she was the only female as to whether she should have dessert and told “be careful you might put on some weight” – which was met with “just a general nodding of heads around the table”.
Another example of tolerated sexism was being called out during a board meeting for being “pushy” when she was presenting evidence-based cost-benefit analysis. “Time and time again there is a pause and a phrase like, ‘boy, you women are fierce’.
“You could replace the word fierce with ‘pushy’ or ‘bossy’ or any of those adjectives that literally say you are not being judged by the merit of your debate but by your gender,” she said.
Her experience at Hawthorn, where Ms Gaudry was CEO for six months in 2017, continued to be too traumatic to discuss, she said.
Respect Victoria is launching a campaign asking Victorians to call out gender inequality on and off the field during football and NRL grand final season.
Historical data shows police and support services often see an increase in family violence on days around big sporting events and given Victorians are likely to spend grand final weekend at home due to restrictions, Respect Victoria is concerned a “compounding effect” may push up violence.
September data showed Victoria is experiencing the highest reported rates of family violence in history, including a 6.7 per cent increase in reports to police in the last year.
Ms Gaudry said sport, due to its large influence in society, could also be helpful in the campaign to boost equality and reduce tolerance of discrimination and worse treatment of women including violence.
“Sport is an important lever to informing gender inequality and other forms of discrimination,” Ms Gaudry said.
If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or call 000 in a crisis.
Wendy Tuohy is a Sunday Age senior writer.