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International Women’s Day: Highlighting women working behind the scenes

Ailie Gardner – High Performance Operations Co-ordinator (centre) for Scotland at Rugby World Cup 2023

In the second of our two Q&A pieces focusing on women working in men’s rugby, hear from Ailie Gardner and Charlotte Gibbons of the SRU and RFU about their roles as we celebrate some of the women working in the Guinness Men’s Six Nations and beyond on International Women’s Day.

Ailie Gardner, High Performance Operations Co-ordinator (SRU)

How long have you been doing your current job? 1 year and 8 months

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What does your job entail? There are multiple different parts to my role but on the whole, it is based around logistics and operations. I work closely with our players that are based out with Scotland to arrange their travel to and from camp during campaigns.

I also help organise team travel and accommodation as well as acting as the point of contact at our base in Edinburgh. Another large part of my role includes looking after our players and management’s families on and in the run up to match day.

What led you to that career? I studied PE teaching at university but shortly after graduating decided that wasn’t the job for me. Keen to stay in sport I began to explore other job opportunities within governing bodies. I started at Scottish Rugby over 5 years ago as a regional administrator in the grassroots game before moving departments into high performance.

How has your experience of working in a largely male-dominated environment been? Really positive. I feel very fortunate that I can truly say that most days I don’t even realise I am one of or the only female in the environment. The players and management I work with are very respectful and don’t treat me any differently from the way they treat each other which I really appreciate.

What advice would you offer to young women aspiring to work in rugby sport? Go out and get as much experience as you can in different sporting environments and settings. Reach out to people that are currently working in roles you are interested in to find out what the keys are to being successful.

Remember that in these kinds of environments everyone is often working towards the same end goal and there is no need for gender to impact achieving this. Always try to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

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How do you deal with sometimes being the only woman in the room, what characteristics are key in those situations? I won’t lie and say it’s always easy as I did find vocalising my thoughts and opinions when I started quite intimidating, but I think that’s common in any new job. What really helped me in this area was building rapport with others.

Getting to know the players and management on a more personal level made it a lot easier to confidently contribute in team meetings and discussions. Not relying on validation either, it’s important to back yourself, speak up and continue to challenge the people you work with.

What is your favourite part of your job? There are a lot of cool parts to my job, and I am grateful for all the opportunities that come along with it. Being able to travel and visit new countries has definitely got to be up there with my favourite parts of this job. Also, as a person who loves sport it’s brilliant to get the chance to work closely with these professional athletes and coaches to truly understand what it takes to consistently be at the very top of your game.

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What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job? This will sound cheesy, but the most rewarding part of my job normally takes place 20 to 30 minutes after the final whistle. Obviously, this part is even more enjoyable after a win but this is the time when I can take a step back and watch our players/management celebrate with their family and loved ones.

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Knowing that I played even the smallest part in making that connection possible whether that was a last-minute ticket request, organising transport or finding family members spread across a 70,000-seater stadium makes it all worthwhile.

What’s your favourite memory so far from the job? Despite only being in the job for just over a year and a half I feel like I have lots of brilliant memories so far. Being pitch-side at the final whistle when Scotland beat England last year at Twickenham and being part of the management team at last year’s RWC are a couple that spring to mind.

But the best one I have actually only happened a few weeks ago. When Scotland played England in this year’s Guinness Six Nations it was the first time I lined up with the management and 24th men to sing the national anthem. Signing that second verse of Flower of Scotland from the touchline gave me even more goosebumps than normal.

What is something that you think people may not know about what your role involves? My role isn’t actually only working with the men’s national team. I also work with our high-performance match officials as well. This includes similar logistical and operational tasks but also involves looking after our incoming match officials throughout campaigns like the Guinness Six Nations and Autumn Nations Series.

Charlotte Gibbons, England Team Operations Manager

How long have you been doing your current job? 8 years with the Senior Men’s Team and 10 before that with the England Men Pathway Teams.

What led you to that career? I wanted to work in sport and loved the spirit of rugby union and the people involved in the game

How has your experience of working in a largely male-dominated environment been? In my role, within the team environment, being female has not really been relevant, I have only ever been judged on my ability to do my role.

What advice would you offer to young women aspiring to work in sport? Work as hard as the players and coaches you are supporting and ensure you constantly look to develop your skills and expertise in order to be the best you can be, I feel I have always been respected based on that.

How do you deal with sometimes being the only woman in the room, what characteristics are key in those situations? It is important to have confidence in your ability and not be afraid to speak up. I strive to always do what I say I am going to do, pay attention to the small details and be honest when I do not know the answer. I try to find time to be curious and look at things from other perspectives.

What is your favourite part of your job? My favourite part comes from the satisfaction of knowing that things have run smoothly and the players and coaches have been able to focus on their job because they had in place what they needed to perform.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job? Seeing players reach their potential.

What’s your favourite memory so far from the job? Too many to choose from, from the England U18 Tour to Argentina in 2008 with many of the current England Senior Team to our first pool game of the 2023 RWC in France.

What is something that you think people may not know about what your role involves? The role is extremely varied from checking Tour Agreements, ordering the kit, booking the bus and going out to buy wood for the sauna!

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