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Jillaroos Simaima Taufu, Maddie Studdon, Shontelle Stowers.

Everyone's conversation matters.

That was the key message from the women's leadership forum held in Sydney as part of the NRL's commitment to grow the influence of women in sporting industries both on and off the paddock.

Elite top-40 squad members Maddie Studdon, Simaima Taufa and Shontelle Stowers opened up in a Q&A about the challenges of being a female athlete in a sport heavily dominated by male personalities.

NRL and state representatives attended the two-day event, expressing their thoughts and asking for expert opinions on topics including pay and gender equality.

"The forum is an opportunity to pause and take time to develop our skills, grow our connections across the game and focus on becoming the leaders of the future," Head of People and culture Rebecca Doyle told club representatives at Pier One in Sydney.

"We're going to learn skills to take back to your work place. That can be very pivotal in people's careers to become leaders."

Former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick was a guest speaker on Wednesday, while author and communications expert Georgia Murch provided tools and techniques around how to manage conversations.

"We've heard a lot around difficult conversations and conversations that matter," Murch said.

"Some of them that have helped women progress in the work place and their overall thinking, but also the conversation they have with themselves inside their own minds. 

Communications expert Georgia Murch.
Communications expert Georgia Murch. ©NRL Photos

"It's all about how do we have a conversation we may find hard to, and how do we prepare our head and words so that you can build the courage to step forward and have the conversations that matter," Murch said.

"And then what do you do when you've said the most amazing words, the intent is great but the feedback goes south."

Studdon gave the group an on-field example, reflecting on the times she was left out of state and national sides over the past 12 months.

"I've been dropped a couple of times," Studdon said.

"Facing [coaches] and they have to deliver the bad news ... I feel bad for them because that's what they have to do.

"I think you shut down, I couldn't tell you what they said because I was devastated and crying.

"Then you go back and work hard to get your spot back, and it's all healthy competition at the Jillaroos so it's not anything against the other players.

"It just shows how hard you can bounce back, that's where you need to keep striding. I've learnt so much from it and to be in the sport," Studdon said.

"It's all mental, there's a person inside your head talking to you telling you to go do something else, play touch football or go to the park. I told myself the worst things ever, but then you have support from a player who didn't make it either, or your family.

"If it wasn't for the environment I wouldn't be where I am in the sport today."

Murch says it is a common discussion in all industries regardless of the profession.

"The conversations are endless, it can be relationships at work not working, members that are making things difficult," Murch said.

"Whether it's the administrators or players talking to coaches and sponsors. It's about learning how we can self-manage in those situations.

"Topics like equal gender percentages in an organisation and pay conversation is not going to happen anytime soon. But any change can begin to happen with one conversation at a time."


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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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