ANZSOG builds confidence and capability: Bridie O’Donnell

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  • Published Date: 23 June 2020

As the inaugural director of the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation in Victoria, Dr Bridie O’Donnell is using what she learned from ANZSOG to level the playing field for women and girls in Victoria.

Bridie says the Office aims to support and encourage women in leadership roles, ensuring they are not subject to unfair or unfavourable treatment because of their gender, sexuality, appearance, age or any characteristics protected by anti-discrimination law.

But there are bigger issues at stake.

“Gender equality in sport is a vital part of prevention of violence against women because when we see women in visible leadership positions we learn that respect for women is essential, and that message is a really important way to educate the community on respect, particularly for young men or those who perpetrate violence,” Bridie said.

“Our work isn’t just building more girls toilets and change rooms at football clubs; it’s actually around changing culture.” 

“The Office is levelling the playing field for women and girls across all roles in sport and active recreation,” Bridie says.

The Office for Women in Sport and Recreation was created by the Victorian Government following the 2015 Inquiry into Women and Girls in Sport and Recreation. It is the first office of its kind in Australia, backed by a significant investment in facilities, participation, leadership opportunities, and professional and grassroots sport and active recreation for girls and women.

Currently completing her second year of the Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) at ANZSOG, the former physician and professional cyclist is passionate about her first public sector role.

The EMPA is helping Bridie to build confidence in her ability to deliver public value to the community she serves.

“I was highly attracted to the idea of working in a job that would influence the sector and ensure girls and women didn’t experience the discrimination that I did in professional sport, where women are often unpaid, underpaid or exploited,” Bridie said.

Sport and recreation has historically been run by passionate volunteers, many of whom have had little time for, or interest in, gender equality, and this had an impact on funding and broadcast opportunities for women’s sport. Entrenched attitudes and cultural issues could bring negative responses to change. 

“The EMPA’s diverse subjects have helped build confidence in my expertise and enabled me to become more secure in the messages and the policy we’re delivering. I feel much more capable of voicing my opinions and to challenge those who are critical,” Bridie said.

The course has helped her to understand how public servants can create opportunities and ensure the people they serve receive equal opportunities and access to essential services, such as health, education, a fair justice system, sport and recreation.

An “absolute highlight” of the program are the relationships and conversations with fellow students; 100 public servants representing different areas and jurisdictions across Australia and New Zealand.

“These people bring a brilliant array of perspectives and experiences and make for really fascinating and informative discussions in every subject we attend,” she said.

“By tapping into the experience of others we can be more efficient, we can save money, we can save time and we can amplify what we are doing.

“You call a person in NSW and say, ‘I’m working on X, you’ve mentioned that you’ve done that before. What roadblocks have you encountered? What should I look out for?’

“There is such a wide range of experience and perspective and everyone brings an enormous amount of value.”

Bridie particularly relished an opportunity to spend time at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew University. The program required students to compare a Singaporean policy with one in Australia and describe the outcomes. 

“Studying a course related to Singapore public policy while we were living there was a really practical and interesting way to set work tasks, and we witnessed the benefits and nuances of Singapore’s government on a daily basis.”

It helped Bridie learn to make more strategic decisions about where to invest and how to measure success.

Completing group assignments with colleagues from all levels of government, ranging from extremely senior executives to those with less experience, also has brought benefits. 

“It’s such a collaborative and iterative process when you’re working together on something, while balancing a full-time job, and having a partner or children and other life responsibilities,” she said.

“We are all time poor but highly motivated and we have learned about how to communicate, how to respect each other’s time and to establish boundaries.

“I think that has contributed a lot more to our leadership than we realise because it probably makes us better leaders in our workplace as well.”

Find out more about ANZSOG’s Foundation Programs

Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA)

A part-time postgraduate qualification developed and delivered by ANZSOG exclusively for high-performing public sector managers.

Executive Fellows Program (EFP)

A three-week program challenging senior public service executives working in the public domain to develop new leadership perspectives in a contemporary and highly interactive setting. 

Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL)

A unique two-week program that helps public service leaders develop the qualities needed to thrive in a senior executive role: a strategic outlook, political astuteness, personal resilience and the capacity to reflect and learn continuously.