Arguably one of the nation’s most passionate and influential Rugby administrators, Rugby AU Board Director Pip Marlow, sat down with RUGBY.com.au ahead of International Women’s Day to discuss her experiences, and what “choosing to challenge” really means in the Rugby world.
One of five children, Pip has been around Rugby all of her life. Marlow is now a proud Rugby mum herself with youngest daughter Lucy currently the captain of Rugby 7’s at Monte St Angelo College in Sydney.
And some of the lessons learned on-field have helped shape her highly successful professional career to date.
“Sport is an activity which brings countries together, families together and communities together.
“Whether you’re watching a professional game, watching mates play, watching a school play, it’s an activity which brings us all together,” and in part, it’s what continues to draw Marlow to Rugby.
Being nominated to Rugby Australia’s (the then-Australian Rugby Union) Board in 2016, Marlow’s impact on the game has been immense.
The appointment was a “real credit to Bill Pulver, who was such a strong advocate for Women not only in leadership but joining the game as a whole at all levels.”
A strong driver of growth, the former Chief Executive was highly regarded for his emphasis on women and the women’s game within the country.
Pip recalling that Pulver was “often the one raising the question at the board table, of ‘what would these decisions mean for our female stakeholders?’”
It is this mindset, irrespective of gender, which Marlow insists is so important at all levels of the game, and even beyond.
Another catalyst for the growth of the women’s game which Marlow recalls unreservedly was:
“Our Women’s Sevens winning the Gold Medal.”
“It catapulted women in Rugby to the main stage, suddenly Sharni (Williams), Shannon (Parry), Charlotte (Caslick) and Alicia (Lucas) became household names.”
These role models and now household heroes opened the eyes of all Australians, not just those within the Rugby community, to the power of the Sport.
“It’s a game where you can represent your country as well as go the Olympics,” Marlow said.
“But also, it’s a game for all, and that’s a slogan which Rugby prides itself on, and it’s something which became visible outside of the Rugby community following the Olympics.”
Marlow has firsthand accounts of the growth of the women’s game within her own family, recalling the groundswell for Women’s Sevens programs within her daughter’s friendship groups following Olympic success.
“I remember helping the school, who only had touch football at the time, connect into our development teams and introduce Rugby as one of the sports programs.
“And to the school’s credit, they were so supportive in getting the sport up and running,” again highlighting what can be achieved when a status quo is challenged.
“We saw great support from Rugby including the Aussie Sevens girls, but ultimately it was the voice of these young women [at school] who got the program up and running.”
Marlow also credits the school for ensuring that the program was not only safe but highly inclusive and is something which she is incredibly proud of all the girls who fought for its inclusion.
Calling on all genders and roles, the board member was swift to call on everyone within a leadership position to “help change systems to make them more inclusive.
“It may seem hard for a person not in a leadership position, to foster change.
“But if you are fortunate enough to sit at a Board table, you need to actively look for inequities within the system that stop everybody from benefiting.”
And for Marlow, this all-encompassing approach; from parental leave policies of players and staff to removing the base-pay or contract difference between men’s and women’s sevens - everything needs to be questioned, ensuring they are as inclusive as possible.
“As a game, twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have imagined having Amy Perrett as a full-time referee, but now we want 100 Amy Perrett’s on the field.”
Highlighting the importance of not only challenging the way we have historically done things but also ensuring that the right questions are being asked to make sure we are heading in the right direction.
“As females, we’re not asking people to have all the answers to the challenges that are there but to create the space to bring the diverse voices in to do so.
“To care enough to sponsor and advocate for change and to be inclusive in the design of our solutions.”
Having recently joined the World Rugby Council, Marlow is now asking those questions on the global stage.
“First and foremost, it’s an incredible privilege and responsibility to represent both Australia and Australian Women,” Pip states.
However, it draws attention to a historically male group, whereby “I think I was the first person ever to use the word ‘breastfeeding’ on a World Rugby call. when talking about ticketing strategies”
But these conversations must be had especially when speaking to creating a worldwide fabric for the game which is inclusive, not just for players, but for all participants and spectators.
When asked on advice for any young leaders, irrespective of gender, Marlow states,
“You need to approach everything with a learner’s and a belief mindset."
There’s a quote from Henry Ford which Marlow uses to explain this further, “If you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re right.’
“What I mean by that is, if you think that you can’t play rugby, you probably won’t.”
“If you believe you can, that’s the first step – it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go to the Olympics, but you need that self-belief.
“You’ll also need a cheer squad of your own. It’s perfectly natural to get ‘imposter syndrome’, but you need people you can go to when you doubt yourself who will help you get back to your dreams and aspirations,” Marlow said.
Citing a lot of firsts, from Olympic Gold to Rugby World Cups, anything is possible.
If you are the first, ensure that you’re not the last, bring others along with you
.“Throwdown the ladder and ensure other women are coming up behind you as you break the ceiling.”