Friday 23 August 2019, 00:51

FIFA Women’s Leadership programme delivering dividends Down Under

  • FIFA Women’s Leadership Development Programme aims to develop female leaders

  • Programme participant Helen Mallon recently appointed chair of Capital Football

  • New Zealander said programme aided personal growth

The FIFA Women’s Leadership Development Programme was launched in 2015 with the aim of identifying, supporting and developing female leaders and role models in football. The long term outcome, it was hoped, would deliver more women in senior decision-making positions.

The investment in those aims certainly delivered immediate dividends in New Zealand earlier this year. Helen Mallon was appointed chair of Capital Football just months after attending the FIFA Women’s Leadership Development Programme last December, which was held in Geneva from 3-7 December 2018.

The Wellingtonian has developed a broad administrative CV at both club and regional level, as well as being a former National Women’s League referee. Add in two terms on the Capital Football Board – the region covering the capital Wellington and surrounds - and Mallon is highly credentialed. Yet it took the confidence boost provided at last year’s week-long programme in Geneva to take the next step.

“The programme absolutely helped with personal growth,” Mallon told “It helped me gain more confidence and also to recognise that I have knowledge and experience in the beautiful game that I could use to contribute more at the Board table.

“I’m probably generalising a little, but I feel that at times, as women, we can be a little hard on ourselves, and I speak from my own experience. Self-belief is a biggie. We have valued opinions and people want to hear what we have to say.

“As a result of some of the learnings I had in Switzerland, I sat down with the rest of the [Capital Football Board] and sought their support in enabling me to take a step up into the role of chair. I had 100 per cent support from my colleagues and it is a great honour to me that they have provided that support and encouragement and belief in my ability to take the step. I certainly do credit the personal development gained during my time away and see the learnings as a very good example of taking some of the experience from the programme and putting it into practice.

“The key aim of the programme was to increase the number of female decision-makers within football through executive education. We were able to share our experiences, knowledge and gain learnings to enable more effective leadership. Some of the key takeaways for me was having gender diversity at the table, that we do need to sometimes step outside our comfort zone and give things a try and that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

“Being inclusive at the Board table is something I’m passionate about and I am a firm believer that everyone has a contribution to make. For us to work together as a team for the betterment of football in our region is something I’m very excited about and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. It’s incredibly humbling that my colleagues sufficiently thought enough of me to allow me to step up to the role."

Diversity brings fresh perspective

Mallon says having female voices at the table does bring a different perspective. “It is something we spent some time discussing in Switzerland,” she said. “Decisions become more credible when both males and females are represented. It is about having a good mix.

“Utilising my learnings and leadership role, Capital Football are also piloting, on behalf of New Zealand Football, a Diversity and Inclusion programme. Wellington have been chosen to lead this piece of work which is aimed at providing opportunities and a platform to enable everyone to be involved with the beautiful game. This is something that I am very passionate about and I also see this as very important for our community.”

The number of women in executive and board roles in New Zealand sport has increased in recent years. The winds of change have hit football too with Johanna Wood elected New Zealand Football chair in April.

Inspired by her recent experiences last year in Switzerland and recent appointment at Capital Football, Mallon is seeking to explore an opportunity for enabling females in governance roles within football.

“The aim is to develop a support network to share thoughts, talk through topical issues and to potentially set up a mentorship and support programme,” said Mallon, who works away from football in governance, specialising in procurement, stakeholder engagement and staff leadership.

“It is very much a local extension of the FIFA programme, sharing information from that programme. It is about bringing others on the journey with me. Collaboration and inclusiveness are key attributes in my world, so being able to enable a platform for others to experience this is indeed rewarding.

“I’m always at pains to point out it is not about having females involved in everything, it is about the value in having both females and males represented, be it around the board table or at grassroots level.”