What business leaders can learn from the Matildas

Aug 28, 2023

What a phenomenon the Matildas are. Not only the first Australian soccer team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup, but they’ve galvanised and united a nation. They smashed stadium[1] and broadcast[2] records and inspired thousands of young girls across Australia to pursue their dreams. I was captivated, finding myself watching a soccer match for the first time in 40 years. And I know I’m not the only one.

They made a stand. They put in the hard work. They showed leadership. But the road to success was long and rough. In the early years, the Matildas had to fundraise to pay for kits, training equipment and even airfares to represent Australia on the world stage. They handed out homemade flyers to encourage punters to attend matches and begged TV stations to broadcast their matches. In 2015 they went on strike to confront the FFA (Football Federation Australia) and draw attention to their contracts worth $21,000, below the country’s minimum wage.


Their backers took risks and invested, for the long term. Australia and NZ took a leap of faith in their investment as hosts. They reinforced their commitment by plastering bus stops and billboards in green and gold. Adidas invested in enormous murals of Mary Fowler and Caitlin Foord on the sides of Sydney’s CBD buildings. In 2016 CBA boldly terminated its contract with men’s cricket yet continued its sponsorship of women’s soccer. In 2021, CBA then announced a four-year sponsorship package with the Matildas, worth $1-2m. The investment is reaping returns – of increased brand awareness, reach and most importantly engagement in a positive setting.

The Matilda's persistent pursuit of a goal, their dedication and discipline, resourcefulness, inclusive culture and kindness on and off the field has inspired us to join their tribe and follow their journey – no matter where it leads or how long it takes to get there.

Positive behaviour is the way to create connection and inspire a nation. Psychologists call it ‘emotional contagion’, the spontanous spread of emotions and behaviour through groups and crowds, reaffirming the hard-wired human need for connection. 

Actively solving social problems is a powerful way to create connection and inspire Australians. Instead of relying on Annual & Sustainability Reports to tell a sanitised story, companies need to embrace radical transparency and share the challenges as well as the vision, milestones and achievements on their CSR & Social Good journey.  When you bring  Australians (customers, staff, shareholders, community) on the adventure and make them an integral part of it, they’ll share the ups and the downs.

Just as we did with Sam Kerr’s injury, the crushing defeat of Nigeria, the electric drama of the penalty shoot out against France. 

The journey may not be an easy one, it could be rough like the Matildas. Companies need to make a stand and put in the hard work.  Whether you’re at the start or well down the road, remember, it’s an adventure. Show leadership.

You’ll need to take a leap of faith, although if you gather the evidence (reports like this and others) and survey customers and staff, it will be an informed leap. You’ll need a bold vision and clear goals and invest for the long term. You’ll need Tillies-like discipline and dedication to stay on course and bring all your resources to bear.  And include people, enrol people until you achieve your goals.

Widespread adoration may not be a realistic goal, but it’s clear that a lot is at stake: customer loyalty, investor confidence, positive reputation, inspired culture and workforce, increased market value, community trust, continued licence to operate, to name a few.


Hailey Cavill-Jaspers

[1] 1.77 million tickets sold for the Women’s World Cup – a record figure

[2] The Matildas semi-final was watched by 7.13 million people – the highest rating sporting event since Cathy Freeman’s gold-winning run at the Sydney 2000 Olympics (OzTAM data)