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Gender equality advocate chalks up another victory

Antony Perry

29 September 2017: When studying at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (CCAE), now the University of Canberra, in the 1980s, Heather Reid had no idea of the journey she would embark on.

At the time, there was little indication she would go on to become the first female to lead a state football association and shape the code into the most popular sport in the ACT and surrounding region.

Becoming a pillar of gender equality and a leading figure in the development and promotion of women in sport was even more remote, given the challenges females faced in society at the time.

Fast forward 30 years and Dr Reid proudly lists both on her long list of achievements.

On Thursday, she will add another trophy to her cabinet with her distinguished service to sport administration, football and as an advocate for gender equality recognised with an honorary doctorate from the University of Canberra.

“I’m chuffed. I’m totally chuffed. It’s something I never expected,” Dr Reid, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sports Studies in 1983, said.

“When I rode my bike to university in the 1980s’ cold winters to what was then the Canberra College of Advanced Education, I could have never have imagined all these years later I’d be awarded an honorary doctorate.

“My university education was the catalyst for me going on to have a career in sports administration and to be a leader and a role model.”

Being a leader and a role model didn’t come without challenges. The path Dr Reid forged had its ups and downs.

“I was on the receiving end of sexist, homophobic, and abusive comments,” she said. “I was bullied on social media, described as being fraudulent, incompetent, gender biased and racist.”

Dr Reid said it came with the territory of being a female leader in a male-dominated sport and industry.

As a leader, she used her influence and power to effect change and create a more inclusive environment for women in the sport she loved, even when change wasn’t widely accepted.

“The challenge is educating people that as professional administrators, we’re doing our job when it comes to implementing decisions, just like a public servant is doing their job when they have to implement a policy that they might not agree with,” she said.

“Getting people to separate the personal from the political has often been hard.”

Dr Reid wouldn’t change a thing. Today, she is largely credited with bringing football into the 21st century.

She began her professional career in football as National Executive Director of the Australian Women’s Soccer Association (AWSA) in 1986.

While at the helm of the AWSA, she was part of a global movement that initiated the formation of the women’s World Cup and successfully lobbied for the addition of women’s football into the Olympic Games.

Her involvement with developing football in the ACT and nationally extends to all capacities.

In 2004, she was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Soccer Canberra, now Capital Football. Dr Reid held this position for over 12 years, overseeing the addition of the Canberra United Football Club into the Westfield W-League, Australia’s national competition for elite women, in 2008.

In 2000, she was named ACT Sport Star of the Year and received an Australian Sports Medal for her contribution to community sport in 2001. In 2007, she was inducted into the Australian Football Roll of Honour and was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2015.

“At the time, the Order of Australia Medal was the icing on the cake,” she said.

“I thought, ‘What more can I achieve?’ And now that the University of Canberra has recognised my contributions in many ways, I feel very proud, very proud indeed.”

Since retiring in 2016, Dr Reid has kept a close eye on the state and progression of football through various positions with Canberra United and Football Federation Australia.

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