There are more women than men in Canada, but if you think sport, you should buy a new mirror.
Things may have improved in recent years – dramatically in some areas – but sport in Canada, like everywhere else, is clearly still male-dominated, particularly in positions of power and influence from team and league executive floors, media outlets and coaching ranks. And that robs us all of what could and should be: more and broader creative input and a greater diversity of perspectives, opinions and experiences.
Forge FC, the city’s men’s professional soccer team, wants to help broaden the base and raise the pyramid of Canada’s women in sports and begins with the inaugural “Spark Summit” on Wednesday, October 5 at Tim Hortons Field .
“I think it’s extremely important to start and continue the conversation,” said Nicole Demers, associate vice president, business operations, of Forge FC, who joined the soccer team in March after 14 years of climbing the corporate ladder had worked with corporate stablemate Tiger-Cats.
She is the highest-ranking female executive in the Canadian Premier League.
“We’re not necessarily the first to host an event of this magnitude, but across the CPL we are. I definitely want Forge to be at the forefront of that. As a woman, I think it is an important initiative for us to lead them. I’ve always campaigned for more women and I’m trying to hire more women, but the pool isn’t there. So we want to enlarge the pool.”
The Spark Summit will feature a panel discussion on gender equality in sports company leadership, followed by a question-and-answer session from attendees. Before and after networking sessions will take place, one of which will take place on the Hall of Fame level on the fourth floor of the stadium during Forge’s critical CPL game against Pacific FC.
The panel will be hosted by Jacqueline Doorey, the CBC host and producer best known for her work at four Olympics. She began her career in sports business as a game day presenter for the Tiger Cats at the old Ivor Wynne Stadium.
Andi Petrillo, a Spark Summit panelist, works in the Olympics for CBC and in football for One Soccer, and was the first woman ever to work full-time on the Canadian studio team at Hockey Night.
Panelists will include Andi Petrillo, the 2022 Canadian Screen Awards winner for Best Sports Host, who is a leading co-host for CBC’s Olympics coverage and also a highly respected analyst for television giant One Soccer; Deidra Dionne, the 2002 Olympic Games bronze medalist in air skiing, is Head of Business Affairs at Rogers Sports & Media; and Taylor MacIntyre, who is breaking new ground as a receiver coach and offensive assistant for the McMaster Marauders football team.
Taylor MacIntyre, Spark Summit panelist, is the assistant coach of the McMaster Marauders men’s soccer team.Nicole Demers is Associate Vice President of Business Affairs at Forge FC, which leads the Spark Summit on Gender Equality in Sport.
Demers, who was a Delaware State softball scholarship holder, says the panel offers a compelling mix of women who are visible because of television exposure and women who work in important sports jobs that the public doesn’t typically see.
“It’s really about making connections,” she says of Wednesday night’s opening event. “It’s inspiring for the younger generation to see that these positions actually exist in real life. And that people who are like you are in those positions.”
While the goal is to eventually expand the scope and size of the summit so future audiences will be large enough to require a convention hall, around 50 attendees are expected for Wednesday’s panel and networking. So far, all who have bought tickets (available on the Forge website – forgefc.canpl.ca – for $50, of which $10 goes to the Hamilton/Halton Boys and Girls Clubs) are women, but the Event is not restricted to women. Demers would like to see some men present.
“I think it’s important to bring men into the conversation because they can take on that role as allies in the future,” she says.
Demers believes there is a difference in what men and women can bring to the structures, decision-making and boardrooms of sports organizations.
“I don’t know if I can tell you exactly what that difference is, but it’s perspective,” she explains. “We see the world in a different light. And we consume sport differently. You would be limiting it by generalizing too much, but when we speak directly about Forge, a large portion of our audience is female, so we would be remiss if we only had a male perspective on how we market or speak to our fans . So a female perspective can expand the audience as a whole: different ideas, different approaches to how we perform our game.”