Julie Paterson: “It’s brave for Six Nations to appoint a woman as Director of Rugby”

We catch up with the new Six Nations Director of Rugby as she prepares to end her 32-year association with the Welsh Rugby Union.

Julie Paterson will leave the Welsh Rugby Union in June, following 32 years of service, to start a new role as Director of Rugby at Six Nations Rugby.

Paterson, who was just 19 when she first started work at the WRU in 1989, admits the act of tendering her resignation was “very difficult, very emotional after 30-plus years”.

But, as she prepares to start her new job in July, Paterson does not think she is the only party displaying a certain amount of courage.

“There are no female directors of rugby,” she said. “Even during the process, I did raise at a couple of junctures that it's brave for the Six Nations to appoint a woman into this role. 

“It is very brave, albeit I've got 30 years’ experience, there’s no doubt it'll raise eyebrows. But, I do feel, having gone through the process, I was definitely judged on what I've done and what I can do as opposed to my gender.”

Paterson added: “I don't think I'm judged as a woman and ‘see what she can do’. I think my experience and the fact that I've sat on things like the World Rugby Council and on the Regulatory Committee, you know, all of that kind of good stuff does bode well.”

In her new role, Paterson will be entrusted with shaping the Championship’s rugby strategy, helping the competing nations share knowledge, best practice, and enter conversations with stakeholders as a collective.

“The public facing element of the Six Nations is obviously the senior men's tournament to a large degree,” she said. “But, it is moving on. 

“So, the way that it's being set up moving forward, the new structure will see a director of rugby basically bringing together the six nations and all the rugby expertise that lies within the six for the benefit of the six.”

Proving a point

When Paterson applied for a junior accountancy role with the WRU in 1989, she did so to prove a point to her rugby-mad grandfather.

In the three decades since, she has done that and much, much more. Paterson rose through the union’s ranks and was appointed to the WRU’s Executive Board in 2005.

She held several roles on the board, most recently operations director, and also served as chair of the WRU’s Rugby Management Board and as a member of the Professional Rugby Board.

On the global stage, Paterson has represented Wales on the World Rugby Council, and its Regulatory Committee, the European Rugby Board and at the PRO14, where she chairs the Rugby and Regulatory Committees.

Paterson has also sat on the Team GB Board, and in 2008 worked as the tournament manager at the inaugural World Rugby U20 Championship in Wales.

“Pulling together a timeline in recent weeks, actually, with the move to the new job has been a weird one to do,” she admitted.

Having had the opportunity to look back at her 32 years at the WRU, though, what is Paterson’s proudest achievement at the union?

“The move from the Cardiff Arms Park to the Millennium Stadium as it was, I think that was a huge challenge,” she said. 

“There was so much politics involved at the time that it was built with many compromises made. And, trying to come out the other side of that, we did go through a very, very difficult financial period after the build of the Millennium Stadium, which was well documented. 

“But… probably one of my key achievements is working with Barclays, PWC, David Moffett as it was at the time and bringing the union through that period. 

“That was probably one of the lowest points for the union. But, actually coming out the other side of it was one of the highest points.”

‘All power to Liza’s elbow’

Much will have changed in the time between Paterson arriving at the Arms Park and her departing the Principality Stadium for the final, and she is also proud of the improved diversity at the WRU.

Since 2005, Paterson has been joined by Amanda Blanc, Aileen Richards, Marianne Okland and Liza Burgess in the WRU boardroom, and she congratulated Burgess on her election as vice-chair.

“It's huge,” she said. “When I was appointed onto the executive board, there was no other union that had female executive board members. 

“So, whilst we can look quite old fashioned, we're very traditional as a country, I think people would underestimate how much that I have been pushed forward and recognised within my own union as well. 

“So, I think it does bode well. The fact that we have people standing for election, you know, all power to Liza's elbow that she stood for election, she went to the vote and the clubs. 

“That's not easy to do, no matter what union you're in, to stand toe to toe and have the traditional clubs vote for you and vote you into post is a huge accolade.”

Paterson added: “It's just giving women the confidence to put their heads above the parapet, that's all it is. 

“I don't think women, there should not be an actual entitlement to any role or any post. But, you've got to be able to stand your ground and go for it, and be comfortable to lose out. 

“If you lose out because the better person for the job is a man, so be it. But, I think it's just that confidence to have a go.”

READ MORE: Rugby’s Greatest Podcast: Biggest Six Nations rivalries >>

Last updated: Mar 10, 2021, 8:15:50 AM
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