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International Women's Day: Interview with Holly-Lace Ayton

Photo by By The White Line

It’s International Women’s Day. You’ve had some pretty epic moments lately: being part of the CommBank Matildas’ Cup of Nations win, making history in printing the first ever Australian National Team’s Pride jerseys, and taking part in the WorldPride March across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Have these moments felt empowering?

It really was a moment where I felt proud to be involved in football. Football in Australia has been historically dominated by males - even in Women’s football, in the roles off the field. So, to be a part of such a diverse team of staff and to be a woman working in high performance for the National Women’s team, it was surreal… especially winning Cup of Nations. So often as a woman, you have those moments of doubt and moments of being an imposter, consumed by questions like “Is this the right space for me?” or “Do I deserve to be here? Am I good enough in my role?” I was proud to be a part of the engine, especially as a woman in that moment, to be in the role of Equipment Manager.

It’s hard to describe because [in camp] you’re so focused on the game or doing what your job is, but there’s definitely moments, like when you’re fetching footballs during the warmup and you look up to see a sea of people in the crowd and you go, “Wow, I get to be the person who’s in this role.” I think about there being a young girl somewhere out there in the crowd who gets to see me, as a woman, representing the country not as a player, but as an Equipment Manager, and I think about how when I was younger, I didn’t see that. I only got to see the men’s game, and I only got to see men in these jobs. So yeah, I guess I was incredibly proud to go, “Maybe - even though it’s just the Equipment Manager role - maybe I’m still inspiring a young girl.”

You’re currently working with the CommBank Matildas as their Equipment Manager, as well as volunteering with Taroona FC as the Technical Director (as well as filling many other roles within the club). What are some of your favourite parts from each of these positions?

I guess both roles are giving me an opportunity to help and lift and support the people around me. That’s what I think we need to do more in our community, especially as women, we need to champion each other and support each other. We need to feel connected in life, to feel you are helping and sharing something with other people, to be in something together.

As an Equipment Manager, I really try to be there for everyone - that’s what my job is. I’m constantly thinking about what other people need and how I can help them, and so the satisfaction I get out of it is when I’m able to sort things out if someone’s forgotten something, or to make sure the jerseys are all printed and that all our equipment gets from one location to the next. I know that I’ve done my best to help the people around me, that’s what makes 17-hour and sometimes 20-hour days feel worth it.

Because I’ve been away in Matildas camps over the last month or so, I haven’t been able to achieve what I would have liked to achieve in my Technical Director role at Taroona. I hope that I can start to take lead on that role more over the next 12 months. I guess in a lot of clubs, having a female TD is very rare. I think this is a great reflection of Taroona FC, whereas many other clubs have men in these technical roles, coaching roles, and staffing roles. Taroona does a great job at giving women opportunities to be equal at the table. I really enjoying supporting the players and volunteers in my roles at Taroona FC.

Obviously, you’re a huge advocate for football, specifically the women’s game. How can women’s sport empower women in a broader sense of society? And how can local sporting communities continue to improve our environments to strive for gender equity in the football sphere?

We keep talking about doing things differently, but I think we have just started to scratch the surface. I think, if we are to really strive for not only gender equity but for a safe place for all genders, and specifically talking about women now, that we have a lot more we can bravely change. The key is to remember that change takes a long time, it takes a lot of effort, but on that long journey of creating change you have the ability to connect with your community, and I believe that is the greatest source for true happiness.

I’ve seen it time and time again in the clubs I’ve worked with across various states in Australia, and in meeting other people all over the world who work with women in football. You give women opportunities, and the right support, and you then see their confidence grow, you see the leadership skills that many women usually have from their roles as primary caregivers, and you bring that into our community through a football club. If you invite them in, tap them on the shoulder and say, “Hey, this is a role I want to get you involved in, I believe you are capable, and I will be here to support you along the way,” then who knows what they can achieve. And the absolute key is in thinking about these roles differently when approaching women and allowing others to give something a go. We know that if you look at a day in the life of a woman versus a day in the life of men, in most of society they do look very different. So it’s all about, as clubs, how can we ensure that we’re creating a space where women CAN be involved? It’s about what it means to be accommodating, how we can restructure these spaces to make them more accessible.

There are many incredible resources that clubs can access now, I could go on for days about what I think, but I am sure if you are a club person reading this, that if you stopped and asked the woman sitting next to you in the grandstand, or the lady who turns up every weekend to run the canteen, that she might just have a few ideas herself.

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