Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is a formidable leader. But like many women in leadership, she’s had to fight every step of the way, she tells Fair Play’s Zoë George.

Women in sport and leadership need to make their own luck, build strong teams and be resilient, says Helen Clark.

Once the most powerful woman in the United Nations and one of the longest serving prime ministers of New Zealand, Clark is passing on her knowledge in her new role as global patron of the International Working Group (IWG) for Women in Sport, and Women in Sport Aotearoa – an organisation that advocates for change in sport for women and girls.

Clark says it’s tough making it to the top.

“What I worked out a very long time ago was that no one opened the door and said, ‘Helen, come on in, it’s yours’. You have to fight every step of the way,” she says. “And that’s going to be the case with all these causes for gender equality – for women in sport – we have to push for it, because no one else is going to.”

In leadership, knock-backs do come. Clark, the second female prime minister of New Zealand, was defeated in the 2009 election, and was unsuccessful in her 2016 bid to become the United Nations Secretary General. Knock-backs and barriers also impact those advocating for fair and equal access to sport for women and girls.

“You have to get in and make your luck and hustle. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.” Clark says “I learned the importance of perseverance and great resilience.

“If you’re trying to push in where women haven’t traditionally been, there will be push back, and you have to be resilient to that.”

Clark says that “push back” is happening right now in sport in New Zealand and it’s only a matter of time before changes happen. But she has some advice for those who want to kick in those doors.

“The key thing is to build alliances because you can’t do it on your own,” she says. “Even if you’re the person that’s going for the position, you have to have a team behind you.”

That team should also be diverse, including men. “It’s very important to have male supporters as well,” Clark says. “Put a lot of emphasis on getting that team around you that shares your objectives and wants to see you succeed.”

Leadership can come at all levels of sport, from grassroots to the boardroom. Clark says more investment in the women’s game will help that.

Also on Fair Play in May, LockerRoom’s Suzanne McFadden discusses the new partnership with RNZ and WiSP Sports, attendees of the IWG Captain’s Lunch give their thoughts on the biggest challenges facing women and girls in sport, para-climber Rachel Maia updates us on her recovery following her amputation and we bring you the latest on the redesign of the toilets at the Basin Reserve.

Zo—ë George is a Radio New Zealand producer, and presenter of the Fair Play podcast, a co-production of RNZ and WiSP Sports.

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