We all know women hold grassroots rugby in New Zealand together. Visit any club, anytime and you will see it firsthand. Go one step further and ask about Chantal ‘Shorty’ Bakersmith and you’d be sure to hear she is definitely one of those woman.
As Auckland Rugby Union’s new Club Capability Manager, the former Auckland Storm representative wants to see more women being recognised for the work they do in the wider rugby community.
Having been a part of the rugby scene as a volunteer, coach, player and now administrator Bakersmith has a fair idea on how to make a start.
Cue the Wahine Collective – the first group of its kind at ARU and potentially the country – an idea Bakersmith put forward to the powers that be.
“We’ve started with a small group because we’re trying to work out the finer details. But personally the ultimate goal would be getting more Wahine into decision making roles.”
It may not seem like much from the outside but the Wahine Collective is a monumental step in the right direction for the union and rugby in NZ.
To put things into perspective, this is the first dedicated group advocating for women into governance roles in the union’s rich 136-year history. And it’s nine years after the first woman was elected to the ARU Board.
You’d be hard pressed to realise the significance though chatting to Bakersmith. Instead of shouting the milestone from the rooftops of Eden Park she prefers to keep her head down and let the work do the talking.
“I am a person who does what they say, it’s something I follow in all areas of my life so when the idea was endorsed at Board level, I had to follow through with the opportunity. It’s as simple as getting things done.”
The Wahine Collective meet every couple of months to discuss all things rugby, share expertise and experiences and listen to guest speakers’ messages.
As the original group grows by word of mouth so too do the opportunities. To help build towards the ultimate goal Bakersmith aims to launch a mentorship programme for the Collective this year.
“I’m working on the basis everyone in the collective gets something out of it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO, guest speaker, or a club member, the interactions and relationships need to be reciprocal because everyone has something to offer and learn.”
“In saying that, I have big ideas on where the Wahine Collective can be long term but it’s not up to me. I can share my thoughts but it has to be relevant for the women in our game – they still need to see value in it and continue to turn up.”
Like following a game plan, Bakersmith is methodical in executing her part. But similar to a game situation the need to sometimes let go of the structure and play what’s in front of you guides the next steps for the Wahine Collective.
What guides Bakersmith is her values and kaupapa she inherited from her family and friends.
“Coaching, sharing and learning from one another are the kinds of things I grew up around. The drive to always think about what’s next, how can it be better, and not resting on what has been achieved are others I learnt along the way.”
Bakersmith credits mentors and bosses for helping shape and change her career path.
She hasn’t been short of inspiration with leadership role models – from getting into her first role through study placement at ARU, to teaching their Pro-Sport programme and then moving into academia as a lecturer– she has had influential figures steering her in the right direction.
“My Pop’s family are teachers’ so when I got into teaching it just felt right. My Pop and great grandfather were also quite entrepreneurial so it’s cool to see the same traits in me and my siblings.”
Born and bred in Central Auckland, Chantal’s heritage is a mix of Maori, Niuean, Chinese and Irish.
No doubt one of the reasons for always seeing different perspectives at work.
“It’s important to look outside of rugby at what others are doing. Society is telling us we need diversity – ethnicities, gender, age, disabilities – we need it because it reflects our communities.”
An understanding Bakersmith combined with her love of rugby to choose her Master of Business thesis.
“I focused on the consumption of sport and how people get in to it. Like sport, a lot of how we’re connected to the things we are is through family and friends.”
“For me, it’s the little things I remember; my Pop taught me how to tackle and goal kick, my brother taught me how to spiral pass and kick and mum coached me for a lot of my sport growing up.”
Fast forward and she is hoping to use the research findings to help shape some of the work at ARU.
“Because experiences are led by family and friends, that’s what we need back at our clubs, social components that relate to them.”
It may seem obvious but times have changed. What used to be engaging experiences may not kick it nowadays. So, how do we get there?
Like the Wahine Collective, Bakersmith decided to do something about it so she created a sport management course to help Club’s upskill and improve their offerings.
The course is a set of workshops on topics relevant to meeting the demands of today’s communities.
“There has to be a balance in terms of navigating two worlds culturally as well as integrating research with practice.”
“It’s also about having humility to that dynamic too. I don’t want to tell people how to suck eggs because there is a lot of experience and knowledge within the clubs. It’s just enhancing what is already there.”
As the Club Capability Manager, Bakersmith is responsible for working with and linking the Auckland Clubs to the Union.
Beyond her roles in rugby, she is a strong advocate for women in sport. Period.
“I’m advocating for clubs, I’m advocating for women’s rugby, and I’m advocating for women’s sport because it’s bigger than rugby.”
True to her nature, she walks her talk when supporting her sport teams.
“First and foremost, I’m a Black Ferns fan. I like the All Blacks but my team is the Black Ferns. I travelled to Sydney last year to watch them because the double header was a historic moment.”
“To see where the Black Ferns are now, is pretty awesome. And having coached a number of them, it’s like wow.”
Women’s rugby has come a long way. The grind past players and supporters have gone through is starting to show dividends. And Bakersmith has definitely played her part.
Stories she can shortly share with her own family as she embarks on a new adventure – parenthood – with her wife, Rhyannon, who is expecting their first child.
Although it is exciting and nerve-wrecking at the same time, Bakersmith will no doubt do what she does best – carefully weave her lessons and experiences into a plan and continue to learn and adjust along the way.