Out Of Your League: In Conversation with Carol Fox

To kick-start the Out of Your League series, Lauren spoke with Carol Fox about the reality of being a woman in sport. They discuss the progression towards a more supportive environment for women’s participation in the sport industry, together with what it means to be a strong female and role model for younger generations.

Lauren Muggleton: You have been a state level swimmer, water polo player and a professional lifeguard. What got you started in sport and what makes it so important to you?

Carol Fox: I have four other siblings in my family and we started swimming at a young age, all doing very well. We woke up at 4:30am, trained until 7am, went to school and did it for another 2 hours each weeknight.

I seemed to always follow my brother where he went with sport. I watched him apply for his SLSA Bronze Medallion, not realising that females were not allowed to apply.

I didn’t realise that lifesaving wasn’t open to girls at that stage, but I was lucky enough that by the time I was ready we could participate.

LM: Were your parents surprised when you wanted to become a Surf Lifesaving Professional lifeguard even though women were previously excluded?

CF: No, they didn’t think much about it. I was shocked when females weren’t allowed in this area, especially considering how capable I was.

Realising at such a young age that I wouldn’t be able to do something because of my gender, like save lives, triggered the whole thing.

They don’t make a big deal of it in my family though. If you want to do something, you do it.

LM: You’ve said previously that you enjoyed the opportunity to race with men in Surf Life Saving. What was your experience of being a female in this male-dominated sport?

CF: When I started racing in the SLSV state championships, my biggest opponent was my brother. He was a very quiet achiever and I was out there fighting for it. He was a bit embarrassed about me being there I think.

[Laughter]

But there were always people willing to help and there were males who would celebrate the fact I was there. Even when I was doing Iron Man, someone would always come up and say “Go for it”. There were certainly the detractors––people who did not want to see women competing, but I think you get that anywhere.

LM: Can you talk a little about the sports environments you’ve been involved in and whether you’ve seen a progression over time to better encourage and support women’s participation?

CF: You’ll notice that people say ‘male footballers’ and ‘female footballers’ or ‘male cricketers’ and ‘female cricketers’.

I thought by 2017 we would not have to identify sportspeople by their sex.

Swimming does this well when they refer to male and female swimmers as ‘swimmers’. For Surf Lifesaving, the integration of women happened very quickly. In 10 years, people forgot that women hadn’t been involved at the rescue level. Even now, Lifesaving Victoria spends a lot of time on their female leadership networks.

LM: Have you ever felt that being a female in the sport industry has affected your progression in the sport or the recognition of your achievements?

CF: No, not in sport. There weren’t many girls competing so we got a lot of attention. Being involved in the sports I have and growing up surrounded by males has helped me work successfully with groups of men in my business. A lot of my work still, 30 years later, comes from my sport networks.

LM: What about your other work?

CFConfident Communication for Women is a female only leadership workshop. A lot of women do management leadership courses but are still taught how to do things like a man. For someone my age, we weren’t raised with strong female figures on TV.

For a long time, I thought feminine energy was weak because I didn’t know what a strong woman was.

We can’t fight men in an energy of masculinity because we’ll lose. I teach women how to be strong as a female, but in a way that’s kind and compassionate.

LM: In 2015 you became the new president of Women’s Sport Australia (WSA). What does this role involve?

CF: At Women’s Sport Australia, we monitor equality around access to facilities, equal pay, and media time and space for women and girls in sport. My role is about connecting with people in the industry and making sure our existence is known so we can advocate on their behalf when required.

There is a lot of interest around women in sport currently. WSA is about getting people excited about the positive changes that have occurred in the sport industry, but also reminding people that gender inequality is still there, particularly when we look at women in the media.

LM: We still see successful women’s teams like the Matildas, the Opals, and the Diamonds, grapple with issues around fair payment and maternity leave. Does this surprise you? Do you believe it could be a cultural issue more so than a ‘sport’ issue?

CF: Yes, it does surprise me.

If you had told me in 1981 that in 2017 we’d still be talking about these issues, I would have laughed at you.

Australian women average $251 per week less than men, and the sporting statistics are worse than that. The pay gap in sport is slowly closing, but it very much relates to what is happening culturally.

We need role models for our next generation of girls. You can’t be what you can’t see.

We know that because as soon as they started the AFL women’s league, there have been clubs appearing everywhere with young women playing football. If you have these role models out there who are in the media and in your face, young girls just say “Well, let’s do it.” It’s an exciting time.

LM: What’re your next steps leading into 2018?

CF: I want to spend more time enjoying the mentoring aspect of Women’s Sport Australia. When I do leave the board, I hope there is a legacy with a strong mentoring program and a leadership education program for women in sport.

Boards need us. They need women contributing professionally to stop the groupthink and provide that diversity.

You’ll probably laugh at this being the age I am, but I used to model when I was younger and I’ve gotten myself back into that space. Again, you can’t be what you can’t see.

I’m 53 and a lot of women my age are portrayed on the media as “house wife from New York with Botox and plastic surgery”. Where’s my role model? I hope I can be a good role model for women my age. I’m fit, I’m healthy, I’m over 50, and I just say “Why not?”


Intro by Lauren Muggleton

Images by Filip Konikowski

Compiled and Edited by Emma Kate Lewis

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