A leader with a community calling

Cheryl Downes, Test Programme Manager

17th August 2021

Cheryl Downes

Test Programme Manager

Cheryl Downes joined Civica as a Programme Test Manager in 2016 for our Justice Services team and has since been able to share her expertise with all of our APAC teams. As the Test Practice Manager, she looks after the Quality and Test capability for Civica Asia Pacific as well as working on governance and support.

Cheryl makes significant contributions to not only Civica’s QA programme, she is also a huge advocate for diversity, being heavily involved in initiatives to address workplace inequity. So it’s no surprise, then, that in her non-work life she is also leading the way and inspiring others to follow their dreams. When she’s not out on her ute in her property in regional Victoria with her wife and two dogs, she’s highlighting the lack of women’s sport in the mainstream media, and taking action to change this. Cheryl is known as an expert, both locally and internationally, for women’s football, having appeared on ABC, BBC and a judge in an auspicious award.

Changing the “male only” narrative of sports broadcasting

I love football. I love hockey. To be honest I think I love all sports, but football and hockey have my heart in a different way. They’re similar in some respects and I love the blend of technique and tactics alongside fitness and the psychology of all of it. It’s a long story, but my interest in sports broadcasting started with the lack of representation of women’s sport in mainstream media, and the challenges faced by women in particular in sports. My wife was doing a photography project on her cousin who plays football – what we call soccer here in Australia. There really wasn’t a lot of information available at the time, so while Emily was shooting pictures, I started writing and doing radio about the games and the players. We were both contributing content to a women’s football website to enhance coverage from Victoria. We went on to cover two World Cups, two Asian Cups, and were due to cover the Olympics as well. Since then I’ve cofounded Beyond 90 which focuses on the positive representation of women in football. Sports broadcasting is an extension of that, getting more women involved in sports at all levels – including talking about it.

Volunteering gives me direct input into changing the way women are represented in sport

Volunteering is in my DNA, predominantly in women’s sports. I spent a year recruiting volunteers for the 2006 Commonwealth Games and volunteered for years at different hockey tournaments in Australia and in Canada before jumping into football volunteering. I think it comes down to being passionate in general about communities. As a volunteer with Beyond90, I spend time talking and writing about football, promoting the positive media representation of women in football. And with Women Onside I provide input on policy development and advocacy as well as special interest groups (Media Network). Being deputy chair for Women Onside I get to work with amazing women. We’re a working board, which means we’re hands on and decision makers at the same time, so I support the board in all of that. Our goal is “Women in football everywhere” so that means from the boardroom, to the referees, coaches, administrators and of course players and spectators.

Through volunteering in football, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people and go to some amazing places including the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan near the Syrian border. I was invited by Moya Dodd as part of an Asian Football Confederation Corporate Social Responsibility program to deliver a message of hope, education and respect.

My day job supports by personal interests – and vice versa

I think work and volunteering feed and support each other in different ways. Certainly my professional experience in recruiting and managing people is beneficial as Beyond 90 has a team of 30+ volunteers around the world, and part of my role is to provide structure and organisation for them and what they’re doing. It also helps that professionally I am comfortable presenting to people at different levels, which makes me less nervous when I’m on air and/or interviewing some of the biggest players in the world.

Follow your dreams to build the world you want to live in

Number one, give it a go. Take any opportunities that come your way. Don’t be afraid to fail. Ask for help. Volunteer to get some experience and get your foot in the door. With a strong recognition that the world is bigger than just me, I do what I can to make it better … and I’ll steal from new ish Matildas Head Coach Tony Gustavsson who is all about a “one day better” philosophy. We might not be World Champions tomorrow, but so long as we’re working towards that direction, with a clear philosophy and goals, then we’re on the right track. This applies to my professional role as well, in that we’re working every day to get better.

In my journey so far I have learnt that emerging media (e.g. non mainstream platforms) are disrupting the industry and providing new opportunities for people to create content and broadcast. This is likely to help women’s football and women’s sport in general. Most often, women’s sport is not monetised in media broadcasting – they’re bundled up with the broadcast rights with men’s sport. I want to help change this.

I remember the very first time I went to a football press conference. It was for the W-League Grand Final no less. I didn’t really know what to do and the conference was with Jess Fishlock, a Welsh player. It was nerve wracking but rewarding in the same moment. I remember different players thanking me for giving them a voice, and fans of the game thanking our team for giving them something to read about the game they love. These are some of the moments that make it worth it.