To celebrate International Women’s Day 2019 we are highlighting three of our esteemed Alumnae who participated in sport at Oxford and have gone on to achieve great things. We are asking each one of them a series of questions about their sporting experience at Oxford, how it has contributed to their lives and careers and where they see sport at Oxford in 50 years time #BalanceforBetter

Sue Day

Chief Financial Officer, Rugby Football Union (RFU)

Former England Rugby Captain and first female President of Wasps FC

Sue Day, former England Rugby Captain and record try scorer, was appointed as Chief Financial Officer of the RFU in 2017, acquiring responsibility for financial planning, management and reporting, legal and governance and technology, with voting membership on the RFU Board. Sue was formerly a deal advisory partner at KPMG, having qualified as a chartered accountant, and worked as lead partner on a number of high profile mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance transactions.

Sue is President of Wasps FC, having played at the club for 14 years, and was capped 59 times for England, winning three Grand Slams. She also captained the England Sevens team and coached their developmental team. Sue is a founding trustee of the Women’s Sports Trust, and has been a rugby commentator for Sky Sports and World Rugby.

Sue studied Modern Languages (French and Spanish) at St John’s College, Oxford. She has a Blue in both Rugby and Hockey and a Half-Blue in Cricket, and is a member of Atalanta’s Society.

What was your experience of playing sport whilst studying at Oxford?

There were definite challenges intrinsic to the Oxford student athlete experience. Since my educational background prior to coming up to University was studying at a tertiary college in the Midlands, I lacked some of the depth of knowledge of French and Spanish literature that my peers had, and I was given additional literature tutorials in order to catch up. These tutorials were initially scheduled for Wednesday afternoons, which clashed with training sessions and put me in a difficult position, but in the end I was able to reschedule the classes and continue to pursue both my academic studies and my involvement in sport.

More broadly, however, Oxford provided me with the opportunity to play for the University teams in cricket, hockey (my original passion) and subsequently rugby, which turned out to be the sport I never knew I was suited for. I had initially played cricket and hockey but during my year abroad I decided to try out playing rugby as it was the cheaper option and absolutely loved it. I returned in my fourth year to play for Oxford and earn my Blue; we had a really inspiring figure on the men’s side in the form of a Canadian international coach, and it was a great time to be involved.

How has sport impacted your career?

Despite important strides forward in the quest to achieve gender parity in the workplace, only 14% of partners at KPMG are currently female, and the Council of the RFU is also predominantly male. During my first year working for the RFU as Chief Financial Officer, I attended the AGM as the only woman on stage as part of the Executive Team.

It has been proven that a significant proportion of women in senior positions have developed their skills and professional confidence through participation in sport at some level. Characteristics such as being forthright and loud are absolutely necessary, and indeed celebrated and valued, in women’s team sports, and these are invaluable when it comes to succeeding in such (inevitably often) male dominated industries. I feel that my experience of Oxford Sport – and subsequent participation as a professional player for Wasps and the England Rugby team – enabled me to develop, and encouraged me to utilise, such characteristics in future professional contexts.

Why do we need (more) women and girls in sport?

I am closely involved with the Women’s Sport Trust, which works towards the achievement of parity in and through sport, raising the visibility and increasing the impact of women’s sport through the promotion of diverse athlete role models, increasing media coverage, and improving the funding landscape.

Marie Wilson’s saying “you can’t be what you can’t see” goes to the heart of the reason why we need more women and girls in sport. The element of not only participation but also improved and increased media coverage is absolutely key; the decision to move the Women’s Boat Race to the Tideway and televise it from 2015 onwards was a watershed moment, as a new generation of female rowers around the world will have felt inspired and validated. Additionally, where media coverage exists sponsorship will follow, which provides another important aspect of encouragement for female participation in sport.

What are your thoughts on the importance of improving access and inclusivity in Oxford Sport and sport more generally?

I think the improvements in access and inclusivity in Oxford Sport – and sport more broadly – are really critical in terms of encouraging broad participation. It’s great to hear that Oxford is hugely improving its provision for disabled students [with the introduction this year of wheelchair basketball and blind football and the Sports Centre’s improved facilities with disability access]. When it comes to female access and participation in sport, there are still significant improvements to be made across the board, despite the progress made to date. 80% of the toilets in the old part of the Twickenham stadium are for men, for example. One encouraging thing is the fact that for many sponsors of sport equal treatment of female athletes is a prerequisite for funding.

In my view, getting women into coaching is a really important area when it comes to achieving parity in sport. The majority of women’s team coaches in the premiership are male, and all men’s team coaches are male. There’s no reason why more women shouldn’t take up the mantle of coaching at this level, either coaching women or men, but having discussed this in the past with my female peers from professional rugby they simply would never have considered it. There are, of course, partial explanations for the lack of women in coaching, as very often family ties and domestic responsibilities prevent women from being able to travel as freely as men, but I think sport would be hugely improved if more women were encouraged to coach. Really, we need to change how society views the role of women in general and of sportswomen in particular, for true inclusivity to take hold. If Oxford Sport were to start to improve these opportunities for women and show that female students can coach just as well as male students that would be a great start.

Where do you see Oxford Sport, 50 years from now?

We must remember, firstly, that, although there are many elements to improve when it comes to women and sport, much has already changed for the better. We must remember all of the battles already fought over gender equality – in sport and across society more broadly – and continue to strive.

I also feel it is important not to put all of our effort into imitating men’s sport when working to develop women’s sport; we must learn key lessons from the mistakes made in the past and build on them in order to bring about real change.

Ultimately, I think that Oxford Sport in 50 years will have built new and improved facilities for its student athletes, staff and local community users in a way that is fair – providing real equality of access for all students, male or female, ‘sporty’ or ‘non-sporty’, and disabled or able-bodied.

Emma Huepfl

Director and Co-Founder, Laxfield Capital Ltd

Emma Huepfl is the Director and Co-Founder (Co-Principal) of Laxfield Capital Ltd – a real estate debt investment management firm, managing more than £10bn of commercial mortgages in the UK and wider Europe. With more than 25 years of expertise Emma frequently writes for publications such as the Property Chronicle and is the Chair Elect of the Commercial Real Estate Finance Council (CREFC).

Laxfield Capital Ltd was not her first venture. Emma also started Halkyn Capital with Savills colleague Adam Slater after working closely with German Banks in the UK market. Following 12 years and a merger with their client Württemberger Hypo in 2007, Emma and Adam started Laxfield and continues to be highly respected in her field.

Emma read English Language and Literature at Jesus College (1989) and was a member of the Athletics and Cross Country Clubs.

How did sport help you whilst studying at Oxford?

Sport was a great way to meet new people from the minute I arrived at university; older club members immediately became mentors, providing support and motivation, camaraderie, a sense of belonging, and healthy competition. All the clubs made a real effort with freshers, providing a ‘safety net’ for new students trying to find their feet.

Many of the student athletes were incredibly inspirational, highlighting the opportunity to reach new and higher levels of participation. It immediately made us all want to push for excellence; the Women’s Captain of OUCCC at the time, for example, was Sian Brice (then Pilling), who went on to become an Olympic Triathlete.  She could not have been more encouraging to everybody, at every level in the club – I am so proud to have trained with her.

Participating in sport was hugely helpful in terms of providing a structure around the day.  Moving from a timetabled school environment to Oxford, some people struggled with the lack of structure, but sport provided it, and the old adage about the busier you are the more efficient you are was certainly true of the people I trained with.

There is a clear overlap with regard to what it takes to be successful as an Oxford student and what it takes to be successful in sport; namely determination, hard work and organisation.  Paula Radcliffe is a great example of that – she set her sporting goals alongside her academic ones and got a first class degree whilst competing internationally in athletics.

How has sport impacted your life/your career?

Sport, and running in particular, has always provided me with mental space and the ability to see things more clearly, which has been enormously helpful when managing a busy life with three children and a full time career.  Sport is very analogous to business life – requiring the same kind of planning, target setting, determination and adaptability.

I was also lucky to meet Dave Chalfen (also an ex Oxford runner, although we didn’t meet until I was 40).  He was a wonderful coach, helping me to find my form as a masters athlete and winning the 40+ age group in the Amsterdam Marathon in 2 hours 58 minutes.  Dave emphasised the importance of steady goal setting, dealing with setbacks and adjusting accordingly; these came into play following a broken elbow six weeks ahead before my first attempt at breaking 3 hours, but meant that when I lined up again six months later I was even more determined not to miss my chance. These skills translate well into a business environment, when plans have to adapt to changing circumstances.

Sport is also a great way to learn how to be competitive and female. There is a pervasive negative stereotype of the ‘overly competitive girl’, whereas sport provides an excellent outlet for dealing channelling competition positively. My daughters are competitive young sportswomen, and learning to apply their impulses in the right way and being gracious to opponents is a great life lesson.

In sport as in business, an opponent one day may be a partner the next, so behaving well is an important part of the game.

Why do we need (more) women and girls in sport?

While participation in sport is an individual choice, women should not feel any sense of exclusion or inadequacy due to their gender.

Oxford University sport in the late 1980s and early 1990s often felt heavily male dominant; it is important to continue to work towards gender balance, both in terms of numbers and in developing further an atmosphere of inclusivity and equity in terms of resources.

While it is important, and fun, to train together with male athletes, female only sessions can build confidence. One particular area which needs to be improved across the board is the proportion of female coaches; even in sports which are more popular with women, such as lacrosse, the majority of coaches remain male.

At a national level, more visibility around participation and success of women at high level in sport is hugely important in inspiring the next generation to become active – particularly during the teenage years when so many girls drop out. The drive towards equality of coverage and pay will benefit grassroots level – it is great to see the BBC screening women’s premier league football.  The crowds will follow eventually.  Prominent sportswomen like Nicola Adams and the Williams sisters have been fantastic for increasing the perception that it’s cool to be strong, but there is so much more work to do.

Encouraging more young women to be involved in sport will develop a generation of women with determination and confidence which can be applied to any walk of life.

What are your thoughts on the importance of improving access and inclusivity in Oxford Sport and sport more generally?

Oxford’s reputation as a world-leading institution is justified when it comes to academics, but in order to remain on a par with US and other global institutions, and to continue to attract the very best student athletes – most of whom are also high-performing in their academic studies – it has recognised the need to improve its facilities and prioritise inclusivity and equity in its sporting provision.

Good facilities are fundamental to inspiring the next generation of sports men and women, particular when it comes to encouraging young people who are not ‘naturally’ sporty. Gyms can be intimidating, and to women in particular, the fantastic redevelopment of the Sports Complex (which was extremely sweaty and male dominated previously!) should help alleviate these issues.

Perhaps establishing an ‘access day’ for Oxford University Sport with taster sessions for the local community would allow the university to showcase the many inspirational figures who participate in Oxford Sport and scatter some seeds of inspiration?

Where do you see Oxford Sport, 50 years from now?

I imagine that in 50 years’ time Oxford Sport will be gender-balanced. I see a ‘revolution’ already taking place in once male-dominated sports – it’s great to see so many women feel that rugby, football are just as open to them – I hope there won’t be any male or female dominated sports in 50 years’ time.

Oxford Sport should be attractive to all women: not only those women who already consider themselves to be ‘sporty’ and the university has its part to play in encouraging everyone, to try their hand at sport and use its unique position to inspire others – I hope it will do more in its own community in this respect.

The wonderful thing about being a part of an Oxford Sport is that it stays with you.  You still feel like a member of a club after decades away.  Even now, I still introduce myself to OUCCC runners at races and get a thrill from cheering them on.  You never, ever forget the feeling of lining up in our dark blue kit against Cambridge.  I can guarantee that won’t change in 50 years’ time!

Emma Boggis

Chief Executive, Sport and Recreation Alliance

Emma Boggis is the Chief Executive of the Sport and Recreation Alliance – a membership organisation which believes that the power of sport and recreation can change lives and bring communities together. With its members and in partnership with the wider sector, the Alliance makes the most of opportunities and tackles the areas that provide a challenge. Working with Government, policy makers and the media, it helps grassroots sport and recreation grow and thrive. Emma is also a non-executive Director at the British Paralympic Association, a Trustee of the National Paralympic Heritage Trust and a member of the NCVO Advisory Council.

Emma joined the Sport and Recreation Alliance from the Cabinet Office, where she was most recently the Head of the Olympic and Paralympic Legacy Unit, established in 2012 to support Lord Coe in his role as the Prime Minister’s Legacy Ambassador. Emma’s previous experiences include a military career in the British Army and roles as the Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Madrid.

Emma studied Theology at Oriel College, Oxford. She learned to row at Oxford, stroking the Women’s reserve crew Osiris in 1994 and the Blue Boat in the 1995 Boat Race.

What was your experience of playing sport whilst studying at Oxford?

Sport helped me in lots of ways. When I first arrived at Oxford participation in sport was the way I got to know people within the college and I also played hockey for OUWHC in my first year so I got to meet people in other colleges too. Sport generally helped me to develop a clear network of support as well as lifelong friendships; our 1995 Boat Race crew was (and still is) extremely close knit.

Sport definitely helped my time management. As a rower and a member of OUWBC I spent a lot of time at the river or the gym and so had to work out how I could manage that around my studies. I remember being pretty disciplined and getting up early to ensure I had enough time to study before rowing in the afternoon.

How has sport impacted your career?

Sport has been a huge part of my later life and now work. I joined the army after Oxford partly because I wanted a job that tested me physically as well as mentally and I was able to continue rowing in the army as well as get engaged in other activities like skiing and golf. I even managed a parachute jump.

A report carried out in 2017 by EY – which runs a Women Athlete Business Network – stated that competing in sport and learning key behaviours from those who play at the highest levels can help female entrepreneurs build market-leading companies. It went on to say that sport provides women with the confidence, resilience, leadership skills, passion and unwavering focus that encourage and enable them to break through barriers in the workplace. These characteristics and skills aren’t solely acquired through participation in sport, of course, but they’re immensely helpful in a professional context.

Why do we need (more) women and girls in sport?

Sport can have such a positive impact on so many aspects of your life from physical and mental wellbeing to individual development and engagement in your community and wider society. In 2015 the Government published its ‘Sporting Future’ strategy paper, outlining its investment in and acknowledgement of the economic, social, community and mental health benefits of sport and physical activity. Women are currently underrepresented in sport which means they are missing out on these fantastic opportunities.

Male sport dominates our media and broadcast perceptions of sport and – whilst this is changing slowly – we need to continue to raise the profile of women’s sport so young girls can find role models and think that it is something for them.

At the Sport and Recreation Alliance we are working really hard to increase female representation in sport, and within sport governing bodies in particular. The Government has set an expectation that there should be at least 30% of each gender on sports boards if they are in receipt of public money, with the aspiration of gender parity in due course. At the Alliance I am proud that we already exceed that and for the last year have actually had more women than men on the Board. Just as the professional diversity of boards is improving, including more diverse competencies such as finance, law and marketing as the sports industry grows and broadens, more female, BAME and individuals with a disability also need to become part of the conversation.

It is also really important that we don’t just talk about competitive sport. Any sort of physical activity is good in my book – it could be walking a bit more or cycling, going to the gym or taking a fitness class or doing some yoga. The great thing is that we have so many different forms of sport and physical activity on offer in the UK – there really is something for everyone.

It’s great that Oxford’s newly launched ‘Get Active’ campaign is promoting sport as integral to providing a holistic student experience and helping to maintain health and wellbeing as well as pursuing elite athletics.

What are your thoughts on the importance of improving access and inclusivity in Oxford Sport and sport more generally?

Improving access and inclusivity is really important. I am very proud to be a Trustee of the British Paralympic Association which selects and sends the GB Paralympic team to each summer and winter Paralympic Games. On the back of London 2012 we have seen a huge growth in the profile of para sport, but if you have a disability in the UK you are half as likely to be physically active as someone who doesn’t so there is still lots to do to create opportunities for people to be active. Only very few people will aspire to be and be good enough to be Paralympians but everyone should have the chance to be active in the way they want to.

Where do you see Oxford Sport, 50 years from now?

I hope Oxford Sport will be thriving and delivering opportunities for all students and staff at the University to take part in a wide variety of sport and physical activity. During my final year I felt like I had to keep my rowing a bit secret because one of my tutors thought it was taking too much of my time. I ended up with a 2:1 and a rowing blue and I don’t think I would have ever got a First so I think I got the balance right. So I hope in the future all academic staff will see the positive impact taking part in sport can have on an individual and as a result will encourage their students to be exercising their bodies as well as their minds.

Posted by Andy Taylor in : Blog,