In our Women in Leadership series, we profile three Canadian women who are worthy recipients of the inaugural Rugby Canada Women in Leadership Scholarship Program; not only for their commitment and passion for rugby, but also for their innovative approaches to growing the game in their respective provinces.
Rugby Americas North – in collaboration with Rugby Canada and Rugby Nova Scotia, New Brunswick Rugby Union, and Rugby Québec – is proud to present these worthy women and celebrate the impact they’ve had on rugby.
Name: Vanessa Robertson
Home town: Halifax
Provincial Union: Nova Scotia
Role: Part-time Provincial Administrative Coordinator
Inspiration: Jack Hanratty / Emma Delory
Favourite Quote: “Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives” – Michelle Obama.
Vanessa has been involved in rugby for several years despite the fact that rugby isn’t the sport she played growing up. During her undergrad at Acadia University, she was a student athletic therapist, and was assigned for two years to the women’s varsity rugby team. Through this experience, Vanessa was immersed in the rugby life; touring, national championships, and lifelong friendships.
This experience inevitably led to Vanessa’s choice to pursue her Master’s in Sport Management at the University of Ottawa. Time and again, Vanessa found herself circling back to her connection to rugby. Though she’s never played, Robertson loves the oval ball. “I always found it to be such an empowering sport for women and girls specifically as any body could play, regardless of size, shape etc.,” she says.
Though it wasn’t via rugby that Robertson learned the rigours of competition as an athlete, she does have that intimate knowledge of the pressures athletes face – she played competitive soccer in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. She’s immersed herself in sport – from working in the Women’s High Performance department of Basketball Canada, to volunteering and eventually working with Special Olympics in various capacities, to helping bring the CFL Grey Cup to Ottawa in 2017 – Robertson has been on a mission to bring sport to people and people to sport.
Her winding road to Rugby Nova Scotia began with a contract as a Regional Sport Consultant with Sport Nova Scotia, helping to develop community sport regionally through funding initiatives and the introduction of new programs. Having proved herself a valuable and enthusiastic team player, Vanessa was then hired on a full-time basis, with a full half of her role dedicated to Rugby Nova Scotia.
As Provincial Administrative Coordinator, Robertson supports the organization as a whole, including the development of new programs. Robertson is proud of the work Rugby Nova Scotia is doing around gender equity. “Providing equal opportunities for all is something I would definitely like to see continue to grow across Canada,” Robertson says. She’s also keen to see growth continue and to do her part to get the ball into as many hands as possible. She says, “I hope at some point every child gets a chance to try rugby. It’s a great sport to help promote some very positive messaging, something that I think is very important.”
Robertson applied for the Rugby Canada Women in Leadership Scholarship Program for not only the opportunity to develop her own skills and gifts, but also for what she can bring back to Rugby Nova Scotia to help them continue to be effective. But, as she says, the ability to learn more about how rugby is administered throughout Canada excites her, as is the chance to “be connected to other like-minded females in sport leadership and learn about their experiences and the paths they took to get where they are.”
Diversity in leadership is key to healthy growth.
“Diversity is what makes our country, our province, and rugby so unique. The importance of having different individual voices heard is huge. Being a female in the world of sport, there have been times where my thoughts and opinions have been questioned more than my male counterparts, or there seems to be a lack of interest in what I have to say over others,” Robertson shares. The key, she says, is that everyone has different experiences and backgrounds, and that these differences bring a richness to the organization, resulting in better outcomes.
Robertson’s ultimate goal is to continue to grow with Rugby NS so she can take on a larger leadership role. Her hope is to eventually be the Executive Director within a sport organization – and also to become involved at a national level to help direct the future of sport.
Jack Hanratty and Emma Delory are two individuals Roberston looks up to for their hard work and dedication to the sport. “Their passion for the game and developing young athletes is amazing, and the work they do to develop opportunities for females in sport is something to be admired,” she says.
For his part, Hanratty is pleased with Roberston’s contribution to Rugby Nova Scotia and the sport on the whole. He says, “Vanessa came to Rugby Nova Scotia with incredible energy, an open mind, and a huge amount of organizational experience. She took a hands-on approach to things needed on field and off. Although Rugby is not her first sport, she has embraced it and joined the rugby community. With Rugby Nova Scotia continuing to develop, we hope that Vanessa will be with us for many seasons to come in a leadership capacity.”
Rugby is about community, and Vanessa Robertson has immersed herself in it, building relationships she believes will be life-long. She looks forward to seeing how her contributions impact the game and how the game continues to evolve. Her passion is palpable. There’s no doubt rugby will flourish under her influence.
- Karen Gasbarino, October 2021