GAA ‘leaves lot to be desired’ in terms of gender balance
More women officers needed in GAA to make it a truly community organisation
Tracey Kennedy: the only people who are surprised by the fantastic performance of women are men. Photograph: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Women should not be afraid to put themselves forward for officer positions in the GAA as having more would ensure the association is truly a community organisation, former Cork County Board chairwoman Tracey Kennedy has said.
Ms Kennedy stood down from the role on December 17th after being the first woman to hold the position in the 134-year-history of the GAA in the county, which has more clubs and players than any other in the State.
She said although she was immensely proud to be first female officer of Cork GAA when she became county PRO in 2011, she regretted the fact there were no women following behind her as she stood down.
“We talk a lot about integration, and there’s much discussion at the moment about the necessity for our men’s and women’s games to be run by one national body, which I firmly believe is the case, but the GAA itself as an association leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to gender balance,” she said.
“The easy answer is to say that we are a body that runs men’s games, but that’s only part of the story. Women’s attendance at our games is growing constantly, there are many women involved in various roles at club level, and even if there weren’t, various economic studies have shown that organisations with greater gender balance are more successful.”
Ms Kennedy, who is the principal at Carrignafoy Community School in Cobh, said that clubs in Cork and Cork GAA need to look at what they can do encourage more women to take on leadership roles as she believes that such a development would help improve the association.
“Women are often slower to put themselves forward than men are, and may need to be convinced that they have the skills for a particular role, and they are still also the primary caregivers in many families,” she said.
“We need to be more proactive in our recruitment of women, and other minority groups, if we truly want to call ourselves a community organisation. I am sorry that I was not able to do more on this during my term, and while we have certainly made huge progress in our relationships with camogie and ladies’ football at local level, we are a long way from achieving diversity.”
Speaking to The Irish Times when she took up her role as board chair in 2018, Ms Kennedy said she had never been made to feel uncomfortable while serving on the East Cork Board and she was happy to report the same regarding her time at county level.
“I’ve been very welcomed and encouraged all the way and at no point could I say that anyone at administrative level or any manager or player ever made me feel uncomfortable, but I know not all women in the GAA have been as lucky as I have,” she said.
She pointed out the Cork GAA hierarchy, being almost exclusively made up of men, led to her feeling different and isolated at times, but she felt she had no alternative other than to make her presence felt.
“When I first started going to county board meetings, those addressing the meeting would frequently refer to ‘gentlemen’ at which point I used to give a little cough so it became ‘Tracey and Gentlemen’,” she said.
“It’s still a very male-dominated body and it’s particularly highlighted to me as I leave office and I know people may say it’s a men’s sporting organisation but that’s really only half the picture because if you look at fans, we must be approaching a 50/50 split in terms of gender balance.”
One of the goals Ms Kennedy set herself on taking office was carrying out an audit on the number of women involved in Cork GAA clubs. While this revealed more than 50 women were involved as officers, Covid-19 prevented her bringing them together for a conference to share their experiences.
Ms Kennedy said she fully believed women are every bit as capable as men when it came to fulfilling leadership roles even though very often women may not feel they are suitably qualified, while men with the same qualifications will have no doubts about applying for a position.
“As women we are slower to put ourselves forward. Women feel that they have to meet all the criteria at job applications whereas men will apply even if they only meet one or two . . . the only people who are surprised by the fantastic performance of women are men,” she said.