Jennifer Watt during the round one match between North Melbourne and West Coast at Marvel Stadium, March 18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

NORTH Melbourne CEO Jennifer Watt led a panel of prominent women in the AFL to discuss leadership roles for women in sport in Darwin on Friday.

In an event steered by her Gold Coast counterpart Mark Evans at the Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre, Watt was joined by Suns football operations manager Darcie Finlayson and AFLW player Katie Lynch.

The ladies discussed their personal challenges in rising to the top of a male-dominated industry.

Katrina Kawaljenko, the facilities and government partnerships manager at AFLNT, said it was a priceless opportunity for the Darwin community to hear the "amazing stories" of people that had worked from grassroots to the top.

The roomful of attendees, mostly women, comprised Australian Rules players and coaches, but also government officials, a school principal and a representative from the Defence Force.


"It was great to bring together the two CEOs whose teams were about to compete tomorrow to talk openly about leadership, despite them being at footy war tomorrow night," Kawaljenko said.

Watt said she never intended to get involved in the AFL, although after studying business and sports management, she always had her sights set on reaching the top.

"It wasn't a love of the sport that got me into footy. I wanted to be a boss," Watt said.

"I didn't have trouble as a female getting an interview, everyone wanted to say they'd interviewed a diverse range of people, but it's much more difficult getting the job.

"The reason I applied for the North job, because it was a time in their journey where the only way was up. It's important to get a job to be able to tell a progress story.


"For me being a first time CEO and being female, you need to pick your best chance, and North, I felt, represented my best chance to be successful."

Finlayson's story seemed to really resonate with the audience. She wanted to be a hairdresser in the latter years of high school, but after taking a few years to decide on a career path, said she had "more to give".

That led to a role at the Suns in fan development and as a receptionist, before eventually moving into the football department in 2016.

At the time she was the only female in the department.

"I've only recently just thought of myself as a leader," she said.

The lunch was the first of its kind in the NT, but Kawaljenko said it won't be the last, with the BHP Women's Leadership Series starting shortly.