Photo : Ben Dashwood – Atlanta SCAD Athletics
For the past 45 years, March 8 has been International Women’s Day.
For Tennis Canada (TC) and for many other organizations and businesses, the day finds special resonance. While the aim of having an official day is to reflect and look back on how far we’ve come, we still need actions on the other 364 days in the year.
Over the past few years, TC has been committed to a laudable and admirable mission that has become inextricably linked to concept of equity. And not just gender equity on its executive team (which TC recently achieved) but a structured, evolving and effective approach to attain gender equity goals.
And along with equity, there’s adaptation to today’s reality.
Around 1995, when Valérie Tétreault was the same age as the children in the photo above, her tennis reality was completely different. Girls who were 7 or 8 years old, just like those who were 14 or 15, didn’t evolve in the same environment.
Things have changed significantly.
“Today, we’re better able to personalize and adapt our offer for young women and girls, both in terms of the approach and the environment,” Valérie explained. “We still don’t have all the resources we want, but our program is focused on recruiting more women coaches. That’s a real need. It may not be 100% of the players, but a lot of them would prefer a woman coach, maybe because they’d feel better understood, and the approach is different.”
She adds that there’s still work to be done to convince more girls to stay in tennis. And that means rethinking training and tournaments.
“Tennis is an individual sport but, at that age, it’s important to make players feel part of a group, like there could be an interesting social component. Those are aspects we’re taking into consideration with the provincial associations.”
While she’ll never insist that her daughter follows in her footsteps, Valérie still brings two-and-half-year-old Adélaïde to the tennis courts and daydreams about what it might be like.
“I’m curious to experience the process again with my daughter and see how much things have changed since my time. And based on what I’m already seeing from Tennis Canada in terms of making the sport safer for young girls, I feel good about it,” she said.
GIRLS. SET. MATCH
Nearly two years ago, TC launched an ambitious gender equity program with an initial campaign entitled GIRLS. SET. MATCH. The dedicated webpage provides tonnes of statistics and facts that highlight the need for change.
And there’s no better ambassador than Bianca Andreescu.
Over and above Bianca’s tremendous success and international fame, the challenges she faced stemming from injuries, the pandemic and the feelings of depression that followed give her a human dimension that’s so important to the young girls who look up to her.
During the launch, I had some very interesting conversations with three women at TC who each play a key role in helping others understand the reality: Jennifer Bishop, then Chair of the Board of Directors, Valérie Tétreault, Director of Communications, and Séverine Tamborero, Director of High-Performance Clubs and U10 Development.
Séverine said something very simple that inspired the title of this post.
Today, two years later, TC is shifting into high gear and plans to announce the program’s next steps—including the creation of an ambassadors’ circle—later this month.
Next summer, there will be a second instalment of the highly successful Unmatched Gender Equity in Sports Conference that was held during the 2022 NBO in Toronto and has since been transformed into an annual event.
The first edition featured tennis icon Billie Jean King—who happens to know a thing or two about gender equity—and several prominent figures in sports and sports wellness who shared their personal stories of success and determination.
With her years on the WTA Tour, as a former tennis analyst on French-language sports television in Québec and as Tennis Canada’s director of communications, Valérie Tétreault would be a welcome addition to the group.
Except that she works 18-hour days during the tournament.
And as the tournament director of the NBO in Montréal, she definitely won’t be able to make it to this year’s Unmatched conference.
from the courts to the HQ
In addition to working to create a better world for young women and girls, Valérie wants to see change in the corporate world.
“I’m fortunate to be working in today’s world. And that’s thanks to the efforts of so many activists from the generations that came before us,” she said.
“I had the opportunity to earn a living in a professional sport, and that’s not something women have been able to do for very long. And then taking on the different roles I’ve had at Tennis Canada and being the first woman to run the tournament in Montréal—I was welcomed with open arms. The same goes for my time as a tennis analyst.”
Yes, the sports and professional environments have gotten better.
And that was reflected on October 6, 2022, when her mentor Eugène Lapierre handed her the reins of the National Bank Open.
The family photo taken by CEO Michael Downey illustrates the sense of cohesion and atmosphere of equality among all TC employees.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Although the United Nations officially designated March 8 as International Women’s Day in 1977, the very first International Women’s Day was actually held 66 years earlier, on March 19, 1911, by women seeking the right to vote, the right to work and an end to discrimination in the workplace. More than a million people attended rallies in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland.
From that day on, slowly but surely, one iniquity after another fell away thanks to the determination, will and patience of millions of women who fought for justice, reparations and a normal life.
Their long and ongoing journey is dotted with memorable dates and events that appear on this timeline on the UN website.
In closing, it’s worth noting that while March 8 is International Women’s Day, 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the WTA.
The milestone was the topic of the National Bank Open blog on March 1.
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