By Nisha Shetty
Who runs the world?
It’s the catchphrase you may or may not have seen from the ad campaign for the Women’s World Cup 2017 to be held in England and Wales in June-July.
The campaign tried to be ballsy, first claiming Beyoncé as the tournament’s spirit animal and then talking up how it would channel the vision of her 2011 anthem, ‘Run the World (Girls)’. It roped in Dane van Niekerk, Stafanie Taylor, Suzie Bates, Ellyse Perry and Heather Knight to take part as well. But what it delivered was a 30-second promo that — sorry (I ain’t sorry) — had all the personality of a plain rice cake.
“I don’t think we want to make everyone look really sort of innocent and nice, and I think we don’t want to make people look too fierce or scary either,” is the ad agency’s explanation.
Because pro tip: Female athletes should avoid seeming too fierce, lest someone should think they’re actually serious about their sport. We’re looking at you, Serena.
Believing, earnestly believing, that women can run the show (or even have mildly impressive World Cup ads) can lead to disappointment. It can lead to days like that Tuesday last November, where shatterproof glass ceilings and waterproof mascaras were both put to the test and only one came out the winner.
Yet, it can also lead to days like that Wednesday in that week to follow, when Debbie Hockley, the former captain of New Zealand Women, was elected the first female president in New Zealand Cricket’s 122-year history. And, by extension, the first female president of any Test-playing nation’s board.
For NZC, it was a way to make things right again. In November 2015, the board had commissioned Sarah Beaman, a former Auckland representative, to conduct an independent investigation on cricket’s engagement with women in the country. Beaman came back with an unvarnished 428-page Women and Cricket report, explaining that what she had discovered was “women having virtually no voice in the governance or leadership of cricket, few women coaching or umpiring, and female players a species on the verge of extinction”. She also offered 17 recommendations to rectify the situation, adding that “the level of change required … will not be comfortable, either personally or organisationally”.
We all have that friend that asks for advice, nods and hums in agreement, then promptly ignores it. Remember Cricket Australia and the Board of Control for Cricket in India cherry-picking the recommendations of the Argus Review and Lodha Committee respectively and brushing the rest under the carpet? So it was a surprise when NZC decided to get right down to business, putting out feelers to Hockley to see whether she would consider taking on the role of president for the next three years. She accepted.
“It’s rare that an organisation puts their hands up, accepts they’ve slipped up, and works to resolve it,” Hockley tells Wisden India. “The women in governance positions, the numbers are low and they don’t lie. From NZC’s point of view, they want to address that, whether that’s at NZC board level or local club level or association level.
“It’s not just about women’s cricket. I want to encourage men and boys to stay in the game as well. The best way for me to influence things is to show my support for the game. I’m aware that I’m taking up an honorary position and not a decision-making position nor a paid position, but I will be very keen to encourage change which will help cricket in the country progress.”
Of that, there is little doubt. Hockley was one of New Zealand’s finest cricketers — 4,064 runs at 41.89 in 118 One-Day Internationals, with four centuries and 34 fifties, and 1301 runs in 19 Tests at 54.04, with four centuries and seven fifties. She was also a pioneer of sorts as the first woman to play 100 ODIs.
Playing 100 ODIs isn’t unheard of anymore — there are 23 other women who have ticked that box — so why is being a female president of a cricket board still a novelty?
“There are different elements. Perhaps, for a lot of women, they might be lacking confidence to put their name forward or to apply for positions,” suggests Hockley. “I don’t specifically know the reason myself. That’s what more in-depth research will tell you.
“It might be that more effort needs to be made in shoulder-tapping women who have an interest in the game and simply encouraging women to apply for positions on boards or committees.”
Hockley admits she never had aspirations for the job; NZC had to reach out to her. Closer home, it was “a bit out of the blue” for Diana Edulji, the former captain of India Women, when she was named in the four-member Committee of Administrators announced by the Supreme Court of India to run Indian cricket.
It would be remiss not to note that both Hockley and Edulji played at the highest level for their countries, which has not exactly been the minimum prerequisite for male cricket administrators around the world. Just as a certain Jackie Robinson, the first African American player in Major League Baseball, remains one of the all-time greats, it’s no coincidence that those who have broken barriers are usually supremely qualified.
Bates, the captain of New Zealand Women, speculated that women aren’t naturally drawn to positions in governance of their own accord because women in cricket are often made to feel less than welcome. “Because the females are outnumbered currently, I don’t think they feel part of the game in the same way the males do; they are a bit isolated,” she said in the Women and Cricket report. “I remember sticking with my team, rather than feeling I belonged to something bigger. As a consequence, I think, women tend to drift away when they stop playing, whereas the men have a network of past players, and so they are more likely to become involved as coaches and so on.”
Hockley agrees with Bates, adding that widening the net could also be beneficial. “More former players could be asked if they would like to continue their involvement,” she says. “I also think more attention should be given to women who have an interest in cricket. They may never have played the game before, but they still might be interested. They could be mums or supporters, but they could have a role to play in cricket organisations.”
But just as there are some people who believe women’s cricket is pointless, there are some that feel putting women in charge of cricket is an equally pointless exercise. Why is it necessary? What exactly does a female voice bring to the table in terms of decision-making? And how will this improve anything?
Hockley feels these questions deserve thoughtful answers and are best directed at someone who’s been in the job longer than she has, such as Liz Dawson, a NZC director since 2013. Dawson wears several hats, sitting on the boards of the New Zealand Olympic Committee, St Kilda Football Club in Melbourne, Hurricanes Ltd and is the Chair of Kiwi Insurance Ltd. So, we’ve posed the same questions to her.
“Particularly for cricket, it’s a pastime that’s enjoyed by many in our population. And our population is 51 percent women,” reminds Dawson. “Having all those decisions made for the women’s game, the female fans, the mothers of those players, for young girls at school, all made by men just doesn’t seem right. In order to make better decisions for the whole of cricket around that boardroom, it’s important we recognise and reflect the society in New Zealand.
“In my experience, it changes the tenor in the boardroom. Generally, women are more inclined to ask questions when they don’t agree, don’t understand or don’t have the experience. When questions are asked, it ensures the right decision is made.
“There’s also enormous amount of research — business and social — that shows boardrooms that have a fair representation of women make better decisions for the betterment of their organisation or sport.”
Anecdotally, Tino Best, the former West Indies seamer, implied the same to us a year ago. “The West Indies Cricket Board needs some women on it, I think,” he said. “When there are too many men making decisions for other men, there will always be jealousy. Some guy will sit and say let’s not pick Chris Gayle because he is making $10 million in the IPL anyway. Women make good decisions. The mother makes the good decisions. The father will always be hot-headed and big chested.”
Dawson, however, isn’t making statements that a woman in governance is a cure-all. She agrees that the best man for the job should get the job, and in some cases that happens to be a woman. “What I’ve found is that there are really great women who have really great experience who are absolutely the right people for the job,” she reasons. “It’s just a matter of how women put themselves forward or make a decision about whether they want to be considered for a board position or not.
“Sometimes, we have to find them, find out what their background is, and go to them and actually say to them ‘Look, you’d be great because you have exactly the experience we need. You would be the right person, not just because you’re a woman, but because you have the right experience and right background’. We are a society of men and women, so why shouldn’t our boardrooms reflect that?”
It’s a rhetorical question, but the answer lies in how society talks about powerful women. They’re either emotional or ice queens. Frumpy or high-maintenance. Almost always ambitious, aggressive and scary. And too fierce.
Hockley knows to choose her battles wisely, and isn’t worried about being ‘too this’ or ‘too that’.
“For people who are saying that sort of statement emphatically, are you ever going to be able to change those people’s minds?” she counters. “I’m just me. I’m not going to be any different to what I’m normally like. I try to live my life with integrity and good manners. And that’s something I feel every person should demonstrate, regardless of whether you’re the president of NZC or Mary Jane who lives down the road.”
Call it the serenity prayer for female trailblazers: Hockley seems to have the serenity to accept the things she cannot change, the courage to change the things she can, and the wisdom to know she may not run the world but can still make a difference in it.
This piece was first published on Wisden India. You can read it here.
Nisha Shetty is Senior Sub-Editor at Wisden India