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Women in rugby

Leadership program scholar

Reflections from 2022 Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership program scholar, Rowena Davenport (and her support crew)

In conversation with 2022 scholar, Rowena Davenport, her Capgemini coach, Janani D’Silva, and Capgemini mentor, Travis Barker

The excitement of Rugby World Cup 2021 (played in 2022) may be behind us, but off the back of this world-record-breaking event, the impetus to continue to level the playing field for women in rugby is stronger than ever.

In addition to being Worldwide Partner for Rugby World Cup 2023, Capgemini is Global Partner of Women in Rugby, Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cups 2021 and 2023 and the new WXV game. Capgemini has made a long-term commitment to supporting female leaders to transform the game of rugby and is deeply committed to promoting equal opportunities both in tech and in rugby, on and off the pitch.

As part of our ESG commitments, we have set an ambitious objective to reach 30% of women in executive leadership positions at Capgemini by 2025, and our university is a key tool for us to grow top female talent.

In March this year, Capgemini partnered with World Rugby to establish the ‘Capgemini Women in Leadership program’ to create a pipeline of female leaders in rugby across the game by helping to develop their leadership skills and training them on the challenges and issues they may face in leadership roles. 

Initially created by World Rugby in late 2017 as part of the ‘Accelerating the global development of women in rugby 2017-2025’ plan, the program offers £10,000 scholarships to 12 high potential women across the world in the field of sport. Each year, the scholars follow a two-year program comprised of formal and informal education, including access to the Capgemini University and online learning and development platforms. They also benefit from a strong supporting network, along with coaching and mentoring from Capgemini leaders. 

2022’s 12 scholars hail from Botswana (Gorata Kgathi), Ivory Coast (Adjoa Isabelle Yeboua), Nepal (Kamana Giri), Taiwan (Zi-Yu Chen), Germany (Alena Abbott), Ukraine (Olga Surkova), New Zealand (Rowena Davenport), Fiji (Mere Rakoroi), Trinidad and Tobago (Kanisha Vincent), USA (Jessica Dombrowski), Argentina (Bárbara Pichot)and Brazil (Natasha Olsen).

We caught up with New Zealand scholar, Rowena Davenport, as she reflected on her scholarship experience so far, and tagged in two of her support crew, Janani di Silva (coach) and Travis Barker (mentor) for their insights.

Rowena’s transformation story (video)

On receiving the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership scholarship

Rowena: I applied for the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership scholarship to be able to invest in my professional development and leadership goals.

There aren’t enough women involved in our game in leadership roles, but the ones that are, are amazing – so it was very humbling to find out I’d been awarded the scholarship. It wasn’t long after that I found out that I had been appointed to the New Zealand Rugby Board, so the scholarship became even more meaningful.

On making connections

Rowena: When I was applying for the scholarship, I hadn’t considered how valuable the connections I’d make with all the other scholars and previous scholars would be.

There is a great group of Women in Rugby Leadership Scholarship alumni. I’m in the third cohort of the program and there are about 60 of us in total, including current and previous scholars.

With the RWC 2021 (played in October – November 2022), many of the scholars from around the world came to New Zealand. (As a domestic traveller, it was quite easy for me!)

To be able to build this sort of cohort of women leaders in sport from around the globe is fantastic. It was great to be able to connect with them in person at the Women in Rugby Summit, and to reflect on our experiences in the Capgemini panel.

The Capgemini panel at the Women in Rugby International Summit, chaired by Capgemini’s APAC CMO, Tracy Gawthorne.

Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership scholars prizegiving for graduating scholars, Auckland, November 2022.

On coaching and mentorship

Rowena: I’m keen to evolve my leadership capabilities so I can encourage more people to get involved in leadership roles in rugby, and Capgemini provided me a coach (Janani D’Silva) and a mentor (Travis Barker) to support this goal.

When you’re in the day-to-day aspects of your roles, you’re usually focused on the business as usual – reviewing performance and planning, etc. It’s been really helpful to have an opportunity to take a step back and talk with both Janani and Travis about the wider context, opportunities and challenges.

Janani and I talked a lot about women in rugby, and our conversations about diversity and inclusion in particular have been really helpful.

Travis has quite a lot of experience in rugby, so he understands the context. It’s been really good to have Travis’ neutral perspective and input. Stepping into my role on the board of New Zealand Rugby, I didn’t appreciate just how much public scrutiny there would be, such as when the All Blacks don’t perform as expected!

With all the media and public interest, you’re sometimes operating in a highly emotive environment, and it can become quite negative. I do this role because it’s something I’m really passionate about, and having objective trusted advisors like Travis who I can talk things through with has helped me stay focused on what’s important and why I’m there, and stay on track despite all the noise.

On studying abroad and creating global networks

Rowena: The scholarship is quite a significant amount of money, and I want to leverage it as best I can and invest in something really meaningful in terms of my leadership journey. Travis has been helping me narrow down my options (it’s been a massive logistical exercise!), and I have just been accepted into the Women Transforming Leadership course at Oxford University next year, around the time RWC 2023 will be happening in France. This isn’t something I’d ever do without the scholarship fund, so it’s an exciting opportunity.

Until my appointment to the NZ Rugby Board, my involvement with rugby had been grassroots and community based. Being involved at a national level means more global interests and relationships to consider also, and this presents a whole lot more opportunities to learn and establish connections.

This is why it was important for me to look offshore for an opportunity with the scholarship, so I could develop my connections and meet others, including other women, in rugby leadership roles and keep developing my network.

You are subject to a maximum term in my governance role, so it’s important to make sure you contribute and add value in the short time you’re there, making the most of every opportunity. There are so many people and opportunities connected to the game, and while my governance role might not be long term, the connections and experiences I will have will be with me forever.

On the Rugby World Cup 2021 effect

Rowena: I feel like we have just seen a real turning point for the women’s game. Having been involved with rugby for so long now, I’ve always known the women’s game is amazing, and now it has been showcased for the world to see.  We’ve seen so many new fans engage with the game – and it was everything we had hoped for. It’s been incredible to see the extent to which it came together – the crowds, the atmosphere, and the spectacle. It was a huge moment for the game.

Seeing the Black Ferns succeed as champions of the tournament – when England were the favorites to take it out – was a real display of heart-and-head leadership. There were some big emotions during that final – on and off the field!

It was such a special moment in the history of women’s sport. For anyone who witnessed it – you knew there was something special going on. People saw it for what it was: not just women playing rugby but athletes playing their sport really well. As a woman watching this, it was a really validating experience.

RWC2021 has given us the best platform ever, and now we need to build on the momentum.

There’s so much opportunity for us to do more. And yes, there may be a lot of challenges still for women’s sport, but the conversations are happening, and that’s our opportunity to continue to evolve and do better.

On the value of corporate support

Rowena: Having partners in women’s sport is invaluable. We talk a lot about equity and pay parity in the game, and we need more corporate and commercial organisations to reinforce that.

Until I received the scholarship, I wasn’t aware just how heavily invested in rugby Capgemini is. The fact that Capgemini is particularly focused on supporting leadership in the women’s game is fantastic. There’s real value alignment there, and it means a lot to World Rugby.

We now need to make sure we remain focused from all sides, from corporate support to every other facet of the game.