- Sports Administrator
Janice Crosswhite (nee Steel) is an advocate for gender equity in sport who has enjoyed a lifetime of involvement, as a player, teacher, coach, administrator, volunteer and community leader. Her influence has been felt locally and globally; from establishing keep fit classes for women in a newly developing rural fringe community near Melbourne, Victoria, to providing leadership as Vice President of the International Association for Physical Education and Sport for Girls and Women (2009-2013). For many years, Crosswhite has worked energetically and effectively to promote and support women's access to and involvement in sport in the community. She has an Australian Sports Medal (2000) for her services to basketball and her Order of Australia (2001) was in recognition of her services to the community and women's sport. She is the current (2013) president of the Australian Womensport and Recreation Association (AWRA), a not for profit organisation that 'supports the active participation of women and girls in sport, physical activity and recreation' aims to 'provide advocacy and leadership for the progress and facilitation of opportunities for Australian women and girls in and through sport, physical activity and recreation' (AWRA Website).
Born in 1944 in East Melbourne Janice, the child of a homemaker and a fireman, lived in fire stations around Melbourne until she got married. 'The fire brigade was like an extended family,' she observed, forming a close knit, supportive community that was very important to the wives and families of the men who worked there (Interview). Primary schooling was in a variety of locations around inner Melbourne and she attended secondary school at University High School in Parkville.
University High School was, according to Crosswhite, 'a very special school, a school that developed its children well' (Interview) In the late 1950s early 1960s, when she attended the school there was a diverse enrolment of children from working and middle class backgrounds who were encouraged by staff and each other to develop a sense of pride in themselves and the school. It was an 'important place for developing young women,' she says, 'and there have been many trailblazing women amongst the alumni,' including acclaimed scientists, Professors Elizabeth Blackburn and Suzanne Cory, entertainer Olivia Newton-John and Victoria's first woman premier, Joan Kirner (Interview). There was a very strong sports program that produced Olympic athletes (Judy Amoore and Pam Kilburn). Crosswhite participated enthusiastically and was named one of the top 100 sports people at the school. Interestingly, it was in the school sporting arena that she first noticed gender inequity. University High School had a talent identification scheme for boys but not girls.
Crosswhite studied Physical Education at the University of Melbourne at the same time as she trained for a secondary teachers' certificate at Melbourne State College. Sport was integral to her sense of self and identity; 'I enjoyed using my body and my brain to produce and do things,' she says (Interview). Her sports of choice were softball and basketball and she played both at an elite level while studying. She graduated top of her class in 1964 and chose to work at Preston Technical School when she started her career in teaching in 1965, because they had the best facilities in the state. In an era without consent forms, she was able to use the surrounding neighbourhood to advantage during lessons, deciding on the spur of the moment to take classes of girls running in local playgrounds, or along the Merri Creek, looking always for the opportunity to inject variety into lessons. She was always on the lookout for discrimination too. She saw no reason why the boys should always get first use of the facilities, as was traditionally the case in coed schools and began her advocacy on behalf of girls who want to enjoy sport in the school yard. Her efforts were noticed and she well mentored at Preston Technical College by a supportive principal, Chloe Williams, who valued her passion and allowed her the space to be creative with it. Reflecting on her life as a leader in volunteer organisations, Crosswhite has no doubt that her experience as a sports mistress was vital to the development of her leadership skills. 'Most good teachers,' she says, 'have highly developed communication skills, which are essential to good leadership', but most of them, except the drama, music or sports teachers, don't have to organise cross-school events.' Running school sporting events assisted in the development of her project management and organisational skills. Being a sports mistress also helped her to develop her people management skills, especially as she constantly had to 'cajole reluctant participants' (Interview).
In 1970, Crosswhite married an Australian representative basketballer, Perry Crosswhite, who, like Janice, went on to have a distinguished career in sports administration in Australia. She also left classroom teaching, after five years of classroom teaching to take up a position in the Victorian Department of Education Physical Education Centre, becoming the first woman advisor to Phys Ed teachers in technical school. The role gave her further opportunities to speak up for girls in sport who she insisted should be properly provided for in curriculum and not just treated as an afterthought. The work was interesting, and she discovered that there were career benefits to being a woman in phys ed teaching, quick promotion through the ranks being one of them and the creative opportunity to develop new programs another. She had her first baby in 1974, returned to work full time in 1975 and then a year later decided she would leave work to look after her child. The timing was right for a change, not only for family reasons, but because she felt she wanted time to think about new career challenges.
Living in a new suburb on the urban fringe, Crosswhite saw what isolation could do to new mothers with young families and established community initiatives to create connectedness. She ran popular keep fit classes in the local hall, using her own property as part of the circuit so she could keep the costs down. It was during this period that her habit for volunteering was established. Having lived all her life in well-established areas of the city, there was something about moving to an area where community was being built that inspired her. 'Happiness comes from being grounded in your community,' she believes, 'and that happiness leads to you wanting to give back as best you can. There is a sense of worth that comes with volunteering' (Interview).
Ever after, that sense of engagement through volunteering has been a driving force in Crosswhite's career, as has the importance of equality of access to opportunities for sport and recreation. As the Crosswhites moved from Melbourne, to Canberra to Sydney and then back to Melbourne, mainly due to employment opportunities made available to Perry (including with the Australian Sports Commission and the Australian Olympic Committee) Janice found work in the developing health and recreation industry and associated bureaucracies. In Canberra in the early 1980s she worked for the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER). She also progressed through various volunteer and paid administrative positions within school and community systems, setting up non-sexist education committees and working on programs to encourage equal opportunity for girls in community sport.
But it was in volunteering and the non-profit sector that she thrived. What began as an involvement in community sport through her presence on school councils and at the clubs that her children played for led to greater responsibilities. She served as President of the Manly-Warringah Basketball Association, winning an Australian Sports Medal in 2000 for services to basketball. In 1995 she was a founding president of the advocacy organisation, WomenSport and Recreation NSW, and a member of the NSW Government's Advisory Committee for WomenSport Australia. In 2005 she became a founding president of AWRA, a position she still holds in 2013. As the main advocate for women's sporting organisations in Australia it exists to improve opportunities for females across the sports industry and at all levels of sport and recreation. It aims to support and work in collaboration with the state-based women's sport bodies from around Australia. It is work she is passionate about because, as someone who reaped the rewards of an active life, she has a strong belief, not only in the mental and physical benefits of a life that includes sport and recreation, but in the importance of women's participation as a vehicle to promote gender equality and empowerment at a broader cultural level. In particular, women who take leadership roles in sporting organisations are 'challenging stereotypes, especially about women's capabilities as leaders and decision makers' (Interview).
Crosswhite's own experience as a sportswoman has been her biggest teacher. While principal Chloe Williams gave her guidance in the school context, most of her leadership training was experiential, through observation of women she played team sports with in the early 1960s. Softball players who chose to pursue their careers in sport, who chose to remain single and not have children, some of whom were probably in same sex relationships, all provided her with 'different models of achievement'. They were 'strong women who did what they wanted to do', did not conform to traditional understandings of domestic femininity and 'this made them interesting people,' she observes (Interview). Furthermore, experiencing the dynamic of the team gave her important insight to the tasks associated with, and the skills required for leadership. 'You learned social and well as physical values … how to deal with people outside your own life experience … and who you may not particularly like … but with whom you share a goal.' As President of an advocacy service that represents a wide range of organisational views and interests, that leadership lesson remains as important now as it was then. 'Learning how to get people to buy into your message is crucial to good leadership' (Interview). And, of course, through playing team sport, one learns resilience and strategies for dealing with things when they don't go your way, or are out of your control. Working in advocacy organisations and the various funding environments they must deal with, it's vital to 'learn how to ride the swings and roundabouts, how to deal with lean times and devise strategies for survival' (Interview).
Crosswhite has also learned that consultation and cooperation with, 'the enemy', i.e. men's sporting organisations, might prove to be more effective than confrontation. 'Increasingly,' she says, 'I focus less on 'women's sport' and talk more about improving the sports industry as a whole by maximising women's potential. I focus on the benefits of parity' (Interview).
To that end, as well as promoting the interests of women's sport to government and broadcast authorities, AWRA has made capacity building and leadership training for women a priority, because women undervalue their own leadership potential and need help recognising and refining what they bring to the board room. Although there have been some significant female appointments to dual gender sporting organisations, for example Kristina Kenneally to Basketball Australia and Heather Reid to Capital Football, the industry is still dominated by men who tend to appoint other men to boards, thus perpetuating patriarchal organisational cultures. 'The industry as a whole will benefit from women's participation,' says Crosswhite. 'Diverse boards are the hardest to work with as a leader, but they are the most effective ... Encouraging women's leadership in the sports industry will result in better outcomes for men's and women's sport' (Interview).
Written by Nikki Henningham, The University of Melbourne