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From the track to the boardroom

1 June 2017

How female athletes are taking the business world by storm

Female participation in sports is higher than ever according to the number crunchers and if you’re looking for some career inspiration, look no further than some of our champion athletes taking the business world by storm. 

Hills resident, household name and November Women in Business keynote speaker, Jana Pittman, is just such an athlete.  

A two times World Champion and four times Commonwealth Champion, in the sport of athletics – hurdles and relay - in 2003 Jana became the youngest 400m hurdles World Champion in history at the time. 

Jana competed in the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympic Games before swapping the track for ice and joining the Australian Women’s bobsleigh team. At the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, she became the first woman to represent Australia in both a Summer and Winter Olympic Games.    

Not content to rest on her athletic laurels, Jana is now studying a Bachelor of Medicine & Surgery at Western Sydney University and has recently worked in Westmead Hospital’s radiation oncology ward. A mum of three, Jana also runs her own health, fitness and motivational speaking business. 

Dedicated to the community, Jana is an ambassador for the Coleman Greig Challenge, raising funds for children with special needs and newborn care. She is also Australia's national cervical cancer and 'save the box' ambassador with aspirations of becoming a surgeon specialising in gynaecological cancer.

Feeling like you’ve just read the bio for Wonder Woman? Jana is not alone in making the successful transition from sports to business. It’s one of the reasons that Women in Business has showcased female athletes as a source of inspiration and motivation for female professionals in Western Sydney. 

“Success in sports is very much correlated with success in other pursuits...female athletes exhibit greater confidence, resilience, work ethic and determination, as well as build strong teams and motivate and inspire others – all qualities that make excellent leaders”

- Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair – Public Policy, at Ernst & Young. Ernst & Young has partnered with the International Women’s Forum to pair 25 elite female athletes with top female executives for a year-long mentoring program.

Here are 10 reasons why women in sports are making their presence known in the workplace:

1.    Time management

Being a world class athlete is no small feat and with women’s sport receiving significantly less funding than men’s, many female athletes are juggling training, work and family commitments. From a young age, Alisa Camplin wanted to represent Australia at the Olympics. She made her dream a reality while working four jobs, including being a senior executive with IBM.  Alisa’s appearance at Women in Business in 2015 provided guests with a toolbox of techniques and strategies for getting the most out of their working day.

2.    Results focussed

Athletes are driven to succeed – it’s why they spend hour upon hour training. In 2007, Jana achieved six wins out of seven starts, a great precursor to the World Champs in Osaka where she claimed her second world title, a mere seven months after giving birth!

3.    Mindset

A veteran of three Olympics and recent November Women in Business panellist, diver Melissa Wu attributes her success to mental strength. In a Sydney Morning Herald article, John Novak, Melissa’s mind coach, said that “The pressure Melissa is under to produce in five seconds is massively tough. The fact she can come out of a situation and say ‘I can do this again’ says a lot for her mental toughness…It’s mental application at its very best."

4.    Passion for what they do

Great athletes love what they do which is key for overcoming challenges. Paralympic swimming superstar, Ellie Cole, who sat on the November Women in Business panel, admitted in a post Rio interview in the Sydney Morning Herald that passion for her swimming is vital as she invests so much time to it. Currently training in Castle Hill, Ellie has fought cancer, shoulder reconstructions and self-doubt to achieve 15 medals from three consecutive Paralympics campaigns – including six from Rio. People can be smarter, faster, more connected and more talented than you in the office, but if they lack the passion, you’ll go further towards achieving your goals. 

5.    Discipline

Linda Leverton is a Triple Jump powerhouse who had a business plan prepared before she’d even left school. At the November Women in Business Lunch of Champions, Linda spoke about how she had already founded and franchised 11 personal training studios in Brisbane by the age of 21. The former Telstra Young Business Woman of the Year nominee now lives in Melbourne where she has successfully established three gyms in 12 months. 

6.    Goal setting
Alisa Camplin has a goal setting chart that she has used in her sporting and business endeavours to keep her on target. Using the chart, Alisa mapped out her objectives to achieve gold in the 2002 Winter Olympics for aerial skiing – a sport she had never even tried. Documenting not only the goal itself, but the steps needed to achieve it keeps you on track and accountable. 

7.    Receptiveness to mentors and coaches

Athletes use experts who can help them to be the best. Swimmer Shelley Taylor-Smith suffered from scoliosis. While recovering from lower body paralysis caused by training, her coach noticed that her swimming improved over distance and suggested she take up marathon swimming. The result? Shelley set new standards in marathon swimming with record seven consecutive world titles - a feat that has never been repeated. The take home lesson? The best athletes listen, are open to new things and take constructive criticism so that they can continually improve – a definite asset in the workplace.

8.    Tenacity

Rio Gold medal Paralympian and Coleman Greig Challenge ambassador, Katie Kelly, was born with Usher Syndrome, a degenerative disease that led to her being diagnosed as legally blind in 2015. Keen to continue with her love of competing, Katie moved into paratriathlon events. Not only did she win every single race she contended in at the elite International Triathlete Union level, she ended her season by becoming the 2015 world champion for the PT5 sport class. Outside of her training schedule, Katie is a talented Marketing Manager, a charity ambassador and a Board Member of Deaf Sports Australia.

9.    Ability to see the big picture

Athletes are trained to see the bigger vision of all that goes into making them successful in both the short and long-term. Importantly, athletes can see the value and benefit in transitioning their skills to the workplace and wider community. Coleman Greig Challenge ambassador and Rio Olympian, Michelle Jenneke, knows the value of looking at the bigger picture – combining studies in mechatronic engineering with her training schedule. 

10.    Teamwork

Victory – whether it be on the sporting field or with a project – never comes down to one person. Athletes recognise the importance of a shared vision, nurturing everyone’s talents, working with different personalities and communicating effectively to develop a stronger team.

Liz Ellis, one of Australia’s greatest netballers, spoke at a Women in Business event about how skills in team building, and setting and achieving realistic strategies as both a team and as an individual in netball helped to shape her future and her career.