International Women’s Day: Carina Mayer

08. Mar 2023 / Category: News

This year’s IWD theme is #EmbraceEquity

Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.

We talk to EEF Secretary General Carina Mayer about her role, the way in which she has built her career, and her mentality toward #EmbraceEquity. Her experiences to date have shaped her leadership style and her approach to work culture which places equity as a fundamental priority.

Let's start by talking about your journey to the EEF. How did your career start and what do you feel were some of the major factors that helped you progress?

So my journey into sports administration and management started in Asia, not Europe. I was doing my bachelor's degree in sport management and then got an internship placement for one semester in Hong Kong, working on the Olympic and Paralympic Equestrian Events, back in 2008. I loved every minute of that, and it really opened several doors for me, in the equestrian network and equestrian world. This experience ultimately led to my jobs at the FEI, and several years later to my role at the EEF.

Looking back, I have to admit that hard work was certainly only a small part of actually achieving my objective. I was very fortunate, from the very beginning, that I had female role models that I could look up to, and I also always had mentors that were standing by my side and helping me to grow and develop into roles with increasing responsibility. Interestingly my role models were women, and I was inspired to become a woman in a leadership role, but my mentors were all male. In both my internship in Hong Kong and then also later at the FEI, I had male managers, but they were really advocating for me as a woman and really helped me to climb the ladder.

I was fortunate that I didn’t experience any major barriers to start my career. And I do believe for some women there are still challenges when they reach a certain age, where some employers will see the word maternity. When I started my work I was younger, and during my internship in particular the culture was very good. Everyone treated me equally and there was no difference because of my gender. I have been fortunate to have only had very positive experiences, which really helped to boost my self-confidence, and also really foster my motivation to work hard and try to climb the ladder in the industry. These early experiences helped me believe it was possible, it's doable and it gave a very positive start to my career.

It seems these experiences have really shaped your own leadership style, and the culture you want to create at work. Were there any other examples where you felt proactive attempts to create equity?

Later in my career, once I was at the EEF, I experienced for the first time a real challenge to combine both work and private life and my responsibilities. There was a tragic accident that really affected my family, and for a certain time my family took on the social care for a family member and this took up a big part of my life. At this time, the EEF really facilitated that I could remain in my leadership role and my position and continue to get the job done whilst dealing with these other circumstances. They listened to my situation, to my needs and how they could help me in overcoming my needs while still delivering to the EEF. This was a real true example of embracing equity.

It was a really positive experience in my career, but I'm aware this situation could have been very different depending on the leadership and culture of the organisation.

Equestrianism is one of the only sports in which men and women compete together and the number of women within the sports administration is relatively high. The FEI Board has 43% female representation and the EEF board 33%. How important do you feel it is to maintain these ratios?

I think it is extremely important because there is one general assumption that I absolutely do not accept, and that is the assumption that fewer women want to take on leadership roles. I think it is entirely false, I think the issue is that many women don’t consider it realistic to have such leadership ambitions, because they know that they are generally taking the burden of childcare and other social responsibilities within the family. I think COVID 19 has clearly shown that women have been impacted more than men during the crisis, [with many women taking on increased household tasks, childcare, home schooling etc (see footnotes for a link to a UN study on this)].

There is a lot of research in this area too. Gender inclusive organisations, that prioritise the development of women, have revenue growth up to 61% higher than other organisations. They are found to be more innovative, lead their field in customer satisfaction and have higher employee satisfaction, so it is not only the right thing to do to level the playing field but it is also good for business.

Despite the clear evidence to encourage inclusivity, many women still struggle to achieve their ambitions. How do you feel these problems can be challenged going forward?

I think everyone has different phases in life, and one could better adjust to these with flexible approaches at the workplace and also innovative solutions to facilitate more equity in the workplace. Of course, there are many different options and opportunities to tackle this and improve the advance of women in our industry and the sporting industry as a whole. I would split the issue in two; there is a role for the employer or the organisations to do but also a role that we as women can play, and that is a certain power that lies within us, that we can use to improve our own situation.

It is very important to test conventions that we currently have, in order to shift mindsets and create experiential programmes and really get the recognition that deep change involves discomfort and is painful sometimes. Things don’t just happen by themselves, and we always need to ask ourselves and make it a mantra to ask “who is missing” so that we can have fresh perspectives and mixed diverse teams, not just about women, but much wider about creating equity.

It all comes down to diversity. It's more than just women, it's disability, age, race, and geographic origin. It brings fresh perspectives and other realities. It should be in each organisation's own interest because it reflects society much better than a single approach, which disregards the diversity that you have outside.  

The EYLE project will have some role to play here, instilling the self-confidence in the young people to take responsibility and not only tell them but show them that leadership is possible and that they can make it to the top.

There is also the role we play ourselves as women. I always think back to a conversation I had with a businessman, who talked of the “recommendation cartel” where men recommend each other for influential roles which spirals into certain developments. And this really doesn’t exist well for women. So, I really see a place for us to support each other, mentor each other, be role models for each other and really help ourselves and stand up for ourselves. And not only put the responsibility on others to do something for us but also make action to do a lot for ourselves.

In the end, we should always remain open to different life realities and the different needs related to these. For me, flexibility is the key to facilitating equity and through this, we can all grow.