When the athlete-turned-sport exec and leadership coach reflected on her formative experiences on the soccer pitch, Eva Havaris recognized that she already had many of the skills great visionaries need. However, her own path to success wasn’t without its challenges, and Havaris is now working to make sure others have better access to leadership positions, not only in the world of sport, but beyond it too.
Here is what the world of sport taught Havaris about being a leader, asserting your own worth, as well as what lessons the rest of us can learn from too.
Pushing for gender equity
While the world of sport is slowly moving towards parity, in Canada it still remains a male-dominated arena, so much so that in 2018 the federal government set a target to achieve gender equity in sport by 2035. Women are grossly underrepresented in leadership positions across the board comprising only a quarter of the board member and coaching positions across the country. And this underrepresentation isn’t unique to sports alone.
The gender gap is alive and thriving elsewhere too; as one recent study found, high-performing women have the same chances at landing leadership roles as underperforming men.
Having developed a passion for soccer at a young age, Havaris faced barriers in her favourite sport early. In fact, her local London, Ontario youth teams didn’t include girls at all, but this didn’t stop her. “The story goes that I pestered my mom to get me on my older brother’s soccer team because, of course, there were no teams for girls back then. So, I played with the Greek boys team until I was 14,” says Havaris.
The experience didn’t only push Havaris to break gender boundaries, but it helped take her places too: “As I was graduating high school, I had an opportunity to play Division I soccer in the States [playing varsity soccer in Detroit and Tennessee].”
While she returned to complete her studies closer to home at London’s Western University, Havaris eventually joined the coaching staff, before completing graduate studies in sport management.
“As soon as I graduated from there, I knew I wanted to be a [Chief Executive Officer],” she shares. Havaris landed a job with Rugby Canada soon after and quickly moved on to achieve her goal of stepping into an executive role: “I got my first CEO job with Taekwondo Canada when I was thirty.”
Related: 10 stigmas women still face every day.
Today, in addition to being the Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff at York United FC (soccer club), Havaris continues to coach others to achieve high performance, to rise above obstacles and to step into positions of leadership. In the process, there were several skills she taps into.
Havaris’s leadership was forged playing sports
Playing sport not only provided Havaris with a healthy outlet, but it also helped her hone her own leadership skills. Here’s how:
- She was exposed to other great leaders: “Ever since I was young, I always paid attention to the way my teachers led, my coaches led; the way they showed up and carried themselves. That’s really sort of what’s been at the heart of all of my experiences, from playing to working in the business side as well.”
- She learned the value of teamwork and a healthy team culture: “I play team sports. So really understanding what it takes to come together as a team; building culture was another skill, because at the end of the day, you can have the most talented team, but if you have a weak culture or a culture where it was pitting people against each other as opposed to coming together and really supporting each other’s strengths, you were never successful.”
- She recognized the importance of communication: “Communicating your needs, communicating with your teammates so that everyone understands what they need to do collectively, to be honest with each other because there’s no time in sport. We have to really get to it because you have a short window to sort of compete and succeed together.”
- She learned to pivot and be adaptive: “Being willing to play a different role [to support your team].”
- She discovered her strengths and started to name them: “Really stepping into your strengths and showing up in your strengths.”
This is Havaris’s advice for those just beginning their career journeys
Havaris also offered a few key words of advice for those just starting out in their careers:
- Connect back to authentically who you are
- Remember that no career path is linear
- Have people around you who want you to succeed and want you to be in your potential
- Be prepared to ask questions of the people around you so that you truly understand: Are they going to help you grow in your career or are you going to stop you from growing? What is their philosophy on people potential and people’s growth? Are they truly interested in giving back and paying it forward or not?
- Be your best advocate
And for those who are already established, she appealed: “Give back, lend a hand… I can say this as a woman, that we have to advocate for each other. The worst thing that we can do is look to undermine each other when we already collectively have a challenge in front of us to move forward. We also have to come together better as a community and support each other.”
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.