On 10-11 October 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the National Olympic Committee of Lithuania (LNOC) organised the Advancing Women in Leadership Roles Forum for Europe in Vilnius. In response to the LNOC initiative, the IOC decided to host the first ever such forum for Europe in Lithuania.

The Forum was attended by 200 participants from 40 National Olympic Committees (NOCs), the IOC, European Olympic Committees (EOC), many other sport organisations.

Thomas Bach, President of the IOC has officially opened the event and has welcomed the participants by stressing that Lithuania could be a good example in women’s leadership area. Both, President of the LNOC and President of Lithuania are women. Moreover, the LNOC has initiated a wide range of projects dedicated to gender equality, women’s leadership and empowering. The LNOC initiative “Let’s start the change” for the employees of sports organisations and former elite athletes is one of those worth to mention.

The Opening Session also included the inspiring and insightful speeches by Janez Kocijančič, Acting President of the EOC and Snežana Samardžič – Markovič, Director General of DG Democracy, the Council of Europe.

Daina Gudzinevičiūtė, President of LNOC in her welcome speech said: „This forum is to provide women with leadership skills and the idea that equality is not just important for those who are unequal but for everybody. Because our strengh is in diversity. We should work to support and encourage women to be more visible and participate more actively in decision – making in sport“.

The first Panel “It’s time for women to run the office” has been moderated by Sarah Treseder, CEO of the Royal Yachting Association and member of the EOC Gender Equality in Sport Commission.

Participants of the Panel came to a conclusion that women need to leave their comfort zone and fight for office. Gender inequality implies many missed opportunities and potential risks. Sameness in decision – making is an important risk factor.

“Halla Tomasdottir was such an engaging and motivating speaker – and the whole Panel gave some really honest and insightful food for thought. It’s all of our responsibility to encourage and support more women to stand for office”, - Sarah Treseder said.

The Forum also included a Panel “Good governance: Everybody should get involved”. The Panel, moderated by Matthias Van Baelen, Deputy Director of EOC EU Office, discussed that a balanced leadership means better leadership which leads to better governance. A balanced leadership is a prerequisite for realising the full potential of the sport movement. Achieving the ultimate goal of gender balance requires an institutional transformation – support by the leaders of the European sport movement is a key.

Brian Lewis, President of the Caribbean National Olympic Committees (CANOC) after discussions in the Panel commented: “The event was very well organised, it offered the opportunity for different conversations on very serious and significant issues. Hopefully we will be able to change the culture – it’s enough for just one leader to become motivated and inspired to make a real change”.

B. Lewis is a famous defender of diversity and gender equality - the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee under his leadership launched the “Future is Female” programme which champions and advocates for gender equality at all levels of sport in the country.

The participants of a Panel “Education: a tool to foster Leadership” made a conclusion that gender inclusive organisational culture needs to be created and nurtured through education for both men and women. Internal communications, images, terminology or human resources policies matter.

The Panel “Special measures: A Solution?” in addition to the sport organisations’ leaders included also a representative of the banking sector – Loreta Lapinskaitė, Board Member at Swedbank Lithuania.

The participants of the Panel agreed that gender disbalance is present in many sectors of economy and one of the reasons is the existing confidence gap which often prevents women from running. L. Lapinskaitė mentioned some important numbers – women usually are applying to certain positions when they meet about 95% of requirements for the position. While men believe they can do it although they meet only 30% of the requirements. So positive actions taken to bridge the confidence gap could really help women to succeed.

Marijke Fleuren, the participant of Panel “Special measures: A Solution” and President of European Hockey Federation said: “We have all agreed that diversity must be a part of everything. It’s been an excellent forum as all the subjects involved were relevant and important. It will help us to work very hard to get it done”.

Daina Gudzinevičiūtė, President of LNOC and Marijke Fleuren, President of EHF

Advancing Women in Leadership Roles Forum for Europe was concluded with a document "Vilnius commitment to change".

Forum delegates acknowledged the leading role and responsibility of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) in advancing women in leadership roles in the European sport movement.

They invited the EOC Executive Committee to adopt, allocate appropriate resources, and implement a strategy on gender equality with clear goals and indicators.

They invited the EOC Executive Committee to consider mechanisms, which would encourage NOCs to present candidates of both genders for elections, and ensure that delegations are as gender-balanced as possible.

They supported current activities of the EOC and its Gender Equality in Sport Commission (GESC), and called on European National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to implement the 2016 Recommendations of the GESC.

They called for continuity of the work of the GESC, and advocated for a gender balance in all its membership its future compositions, to lead by example.

As many of the delegates stressed, it‘s been a fantastic few days and they felt a lot of energy and motivation to change. And with 38 different NOCs represented in forum the power to deliver that change is here.