By Hritika Jimmy
With the importance of representation becoming more apparent, the nation’s capital is ahead of the curve when it comes to having women in the upper echelon of its college’s and universities’ sport leadership.
The head of each of the athletic departments at Ottawa’s major post-secondary institutions, Carleton University, the University of Ottawa and Algonquin College, is a woman, which Gee-Gees athletic director Sue Hylland points out as being counter to the “historical and systemic” dominance of sport “at all levels by men.”
“Having a female leader as the director of an athletics department shows great support and belief in equity and equality for women at the university level,” she recently told the Sports Pages.
Hylland has been involved in sport for 38 years, having served with the Canadian Olympic Committee for almost two decades and with Canadian Women & Sport and as CEO of the Canada Games Council. She was picked to lead uOttawa’s athletics department in June 2016.
Hylland and her counterparts at Carleton, Jennifer Brenning, and Algonquin, Martha Peak, “represent what is possible” for young women, said Peak, who’s worked in sport at Algonquin for more than 20 years.
“When a young girl sees a woman in this type of role it opens up her mind to all possibilities — to aim higher and be ambitious because anything is possible,” Peak added.
Having a woman in a position of authority can help students and players in a variety of ways.
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Brenning, who’s led Carleton’s athletics department for more than a decade, noted that female leaders tend to bring a different perspective than men.
“This is healthy for any organization,” Brenning said. “(Women see) issues and problems from different perspectives and develop solutions with these different considerations in mind.”
Women, for example, tend to be more “nurturing,” Hylland said when talking about the difference between men’s and women’s strengths as leaders.
“I want athletes to leave our schools with the best possible experience in their chosen sport,” she said. “It starts with caring about them as young people and wanting them to succeed during and after their university experience.”
Brenning says what she offers is a leadership style that relies on a consultative and collaborative approach, something that can be counterintuitive in the competition-focused sporting world.
With women in charge, Ottawa’s universities are exploring further ways that they can strengthen diversity in their athletic departments.
Carleton has created a varsity council sub-committee to find ways to promote female athletes and coaches, while uOttawa believes that equity, diversity, and inclusion will be a “key pillar” of varsity athletics’ next strategic plan, according to Hylland.