Women in Life Saving group aims to encourage participation

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

The success of a programme that’s getting more women Surf Lifeguards in the driver’s seat of an IRB, has prompted the formation of a new group.

On the back of Wahine on Water, Surf Life Saving New Zealand has formed the Women in Life Saving Project Group – a team of women who will work to understand what the barriers are to girls and women taking part in all aspects of Surf Life Saving and sport.

Wahine on Water was developed as a way to address the fact that in 2017 while 50 per cent of New Zealand’s Surf Lifeguards were women, only 28 per cent of IRB (Inflatable Rescue Boat) drivers were women.

The programme was the brain child of Phoebe Havill, Julia Conway, Philip Pirie, and Paul Hardy who, at the time, were taking part in the BP Leaders for Life course.

They discovered that many women were intimidated by IRBs, felt they weren’t encouraged to get involved in IRB training, that there was a lack of women role models and training opportunities.

Wahine on Water addresses those issues by pairing less experienced women lifeguards with experienced women IRB mentors. Participants take part in activities and drills such as reversing trailers, engine maintenance, patient pickups and patient care, as well as driving skills.

Phoebe says Wahine on Water events have been run in Whangamata, Omanu, Mairangi Bay, Otaki, Sumner and Warrington.

“Everyone I have talked to who has attended really enjoyed it and wants us to run more in their area.

“In our region there has been a noticeable increase in women’s involvement in courses and lifesaving in general, as well as in IRB driving.

“I personally think there has definitely been a change in attitude and more awareness raised around including women and being more accommodating towards them,” Phoebe says.

The success of the programme, which won DHL Innovation of the Year at the Surf Life Saving New Zealand 2019 Awards of Excellence, encouraged the charity to broaden the scope around women in Surf Life Saving.

Julia Conway, left, and Phoebe Havill at the Surf Life Saving New Zealand 2019 Awards of Excellence.

The Women in Life Saving Project Group was formed by Surf Life Saving New Zealand and includes representatives from Surf Life Saving Northern Region. Phoebe and Julia are among the 15 women on the committee.

The group will investigate all levels – from Surf Lifeguard, athlete, instructor, examiner, coach and official to being involved at club, regional and national level on committees, and in leadership and management roles.

Chairwoman Simone Spencer says the first step is to gain a greater understanding of the current situation for women in the Surf Life Saving movement.

“Then the aim would be firstly to address any fundamental systemic issues or barriers to participation and then to develop policies, projects and programmes, such as Wahine on Water, to help encourage more participation and engagement at all levels.”

Simone says the Terms of Reference for the group have been established, and they are working to gather data, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in order to understand the gaps in participation.

Simone Spencer is the chairwoman of the Women in Life Saving Project Group.

The group reports directly to Surf Life Saving NZ Chief Executive Officer Paul Dalton and then through to the Board. 

Paul says gender diversity is very important to the organisation’s Board.

“While we have a great starting point with nearly 50/50 male female membership, we’re not seeing that same split at all levels and in all roles.

“Making sure that women are feeling supported to take on any of the opportunities the Surf Life Saving movement has to offer is the key, and where the project can help point us in the direction so things can be even better,” Paul says.

“As an organisation overall we are pretty good, but we want to be great!”

He says the group will have achieved its goals when there are greater numbers of women in leadership roles in clubs, and an equal gender split across all the awards. 

“This will also mean our numbers overall for our higher awards increase. Fortunately these are easy things to measure.”

Paul says the organisation is “delighted” to see the project team in place. “There are lots of ‘heavy hitters’ involved so we’re expecting some great outcomes!”

The founding members of the Women in Life Saving Project Group are:

Simone Spencer (Chairwoman)
Dani Shepherd ­­­
Debbie Hutchings
Emma Sutherland
Jess Cleland
Julia Conway
Kate Sutter
Marilyn Moffatt
Natalie Peat
Nicole Harris
Phoebe Havill
Talia Comp
Tanya Hamilton
Tara Coe
Terina Raureti


For more information, please contact:
Melanie Louden
Media and Communications Manager
Surf Life Saving New Zealand
021 757 433