Jess Yates has had many mentors throughout her career but lacked a strong female role model when she started broadcasting over 15 years ago.
“You can’t be what you can’t see, you don’t even know that opportunity is there when that’s not being modelled for you,” she said in a talk to Macleay students about her ascent to becoming a key presenter for Fox Sports.
“I have been lucky to have many great men who have mentored me and been a champion for me and given great advice, but there really weren’t any females for me to talk to. Sometimes it can be a blessing as you need to dig pretty deep and work really hard to figure it out.”
But she lamented the fact it had taken so long for women to be accepted into the male-dominated world of sports journalism.
The award-winning, cross-code sports broadcaster is the first female to host Fox Sports’ coverage of the V8 Supercars and contributes to Fox League, co-hosting the weekly pre-game show the NRL Sunday Ticket and the League Life series.
Working alongside co-hosts Yvonne Sampson, Lara Pitt and Hannah Hollis on the first all-female NRL panel since 2017, Jess has seen the tides turning for women to hold meaningful roles in sports broadcasting, a move that she feels Fox Sports has really been at the front of.
“I have never felt like my gender has been a part of the equation, maybe I just haven’t noticed that because it has never held me back from anything. I feel like my work ethic and my passion for what I do supersedes gender.”
“What’s happened in television is that we have to be more engaged with our audience, partially in sport, women love sport, women watch sport. We need to reflect who our audience is, so if we are all men, that isn’t serving our audience.
“Women bring a different point of view and a different pace to things and I think that’s why League Life has resonated with the audience that we have found we have a different way of telling a story.
“Up until this point in my career I had never worked with other women on camera, League Life started two years ago and that’s the first time I’ve worked with women, because it was always this perception that it was one woman per sport, that’s completely changed now, I think the wave is here and we can’t go back.”
Yates credits her successful career to knowing where she was headed and getting as much practical experience as possible, even if it is out of your comfort zone.
To avoid becoming “too comfortable” early in her career, Jess took part in the Australian government’s then Youth Ambassadors for Development program which placed her overseas to transfer her skills to others in developing countries resulting in Yates being a sub-editor based in Laos.
“I worked out what my end game was and where I wanted to be and I worked backward,” she said. “I was really keen to have a practical application of what I was learning and in this industry that’s what you need to have. I made sure I did a lot of work experience for nothing at a lot of the networks. Because I had a very clear idea of where I wanted to be and that was in front of a camera and in the newsroom.
“Trust what the universe is trying to tell you and trust what you are good at and follow that path when those opportunities arise.”
Recalling one of her most memorable stories, about having to fill out three-hours of a Big Bash live cricket broadcast due to rain delays, Yates said that extensive preparation is crucial to her job.
“Whatever you do you have to immerse yourself in it, you need to read everything. I write notes, I write scripts. You just never know when you might need that little bit of information because someone’s crashed and we’ve got to fill for half-an-hour.
“I just need that little bit of gold that’s going to buy me five minutes until I can get to a break or get to the next thing. My preparation is extensive across everything I do.”
“You can’t just turn up and make it happen, you’re not going to do a good job, the most effortless things are the most highly produced things. I learned that early on, I never wanted to feel not prepared.”
“You have to go above and beyond what anyone else around you is prepared to do.”