Meet the Australians pushing for equal pay for female athletes.
Alexandra Fisher

21 Jun 2018 - 5:11 PM  UPDATED 21 Jun 2019 - 5:11 PM

It’s safe to say that 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams is one of the most successful female athletes in history – both on and off the court. This month the superstar tennis player again distinguished herself by claiming a spot on the Forbes top 100 highest paid athletes list of 2019. But her place, at number 63, has highlighted a glaring disparity: she’s the only female on the list.

It comes at a time when pay inequality in professional sports is drawing attention not only in America, but Australia too. Remember when the Matildas went on strike over being paid well below the minimum wage?  A basic Matilda wage was about $21,000 a year, a fraction of what their male Socceroo counterparts were earning. And the imbalance extends across codes in Australia. The average male AFL player, for example, earns a salary of $370,000 dollars, while the average female AFL player gets between $13,000 and $19,000

Of course, a lot of factors go into how much athletes earn. There’s a difference between a basic pay rate and earnings from other things like sponsorship or network deals. But a simple question remains: why aren’t women earning as much as men?

In episode nine of The Few Who Do, Jan Fran and Marc Fennell hear from two women tackling the problem in different ways. The former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, recognises that men largely hold power in corporations and government and therefore need to be part of the solution. While, broadcaster, author and playwright Melanie Tait has been creating awareness through crowdfunding and the arts, to prompt change.

Melanie Tait’s battle for fairer pay was waged in the little-known athletic event called the Australian Championship Potato Race in her hometown of Robertson in New South Wales. Every year, spectators pack the grandstands to watch competitors race around a 400 metre track with a large sack of potatoes slung around their necks. At the time, the first man across the line would get $1,000, while the winner of the women's race wound up with just $200. The imbalance “shocked” Melanie.


“Even though I've grown up in Robertson and I kind of know what kind of place it is, I still thought that it was 2018,” Melanie Tait tells The Few Who Do. “I told a friend [that] I had to do something about it.”

In episode nine of the podcast, you’ll hear how Melanie set up a crowdfunding campaign to tackle the disparity between male and female potato racers –  but it wasn’t without opposition. And her push for equality didn’t end there. Hear how she took her fight from the track to the stage, producing a comedy inspired by the race.  “So I feel like something about this play gave women and men a chance to watch and laugh about it, but also see that there are solutions to it,” she says. “You know, women are experiencing this every day in all of our lives, like we've all done a job where our male colleague has been paid more,” says Melanie.

For Elizabeth Broderick, lessons in fairness came early in life at home. “Being born an identical twin you believe fundamentally in fairness. If your sister gets something then you want something,” Elizabeth tells The Few Who Do.

In episode nine, she speaks about working as Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner over eight years. She travelled around the world, venturing beyond the wire in Afghanistan, and 200 metres under the ocean in a submarine. “All the time [I was] working with people who wanted to create change,” she says.


During her time as commissioner, Elizabeth founded the Male Champions of Change organisation (MCC) to tackle gender inequality in Australia, including in sport.

Elizabeth tells The Few Who Do that sport is at the heart of Australian culture, and creating pay equality between the sexes should be a priority for everyone. “You know, it's the language of Australia. So if we are serious about change we need to make sure that we [are] building gender equality in sport,” says Elizabeth.


She chairs the MCC’s sport group, made up of male CEOS in Australian sport, who are working together to improve pay, sponsorship and participation for female athletes. “It's men who largely - not exclusively - but largely hold the levers of power. So if we want to create change we need powerful decent men taking the message of gender equality to other men,” says Elizabeth.


Hear more about how Elizabeth and Melanie are working to close the pay gap between men and women in sport, in episode nine of The Few Who Do, hosted by Jan Fran and Marc Fennell.




Over 16 episodes, Marc and Jan will tackle the big questions in society and culture today, and hear personal stories from Australians with big ambitions, entrepreneurs and small business owners advocating for change.

Because there is often more than one approach to our biggest problems, each episode, Marc and Jan will delve into different possibilities and get to know the people behind the ideas.




Introducing 'The Few Who Do'

Two hosts, one problem, two possibilities...

Presented by Jan Fran and Marc Fennell 'The Few Who Do' tackles the big questions in society and culture today.

Whose responsibility is it to make our streets safe for women? How will we support a growing population with dwindling food resources?

We’ll hear personal stories from Australians with big ambitions, entrepreneurs and small business owners advocating for change.

The Few Who Do is an SBS podcast with CGU Insurance.



Upcoming episodes of The Few Who Do will examine

The Melbourne to Sydney air route is the second busiest in the world. Can we open up other options to make Australia more mobile?

Only a small number of Australian companies are developing bold global innovations. How do we inspire more ambition and innovation?

How do we secure our food future?

Global population is predicted to hit 10 billion by 2050. Coupled with extreme weather patterns caused by climate change, our daily meals will look a little different.


Two Hosts, One Problem, Two Possibilities


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