Farrer & Co Women in Sport - Report - Page 21
is more likely to be thinking pretty
much the same, due to all having
quite similar life experiences. That
does not help the board anticipate
risk or understand its membership
or customer base, which is likely to
be far more diverse.
Sport governing bodies are quite
far ahead of their corporate cousins,
not least because under Sport UK
and Sport England’s “A Code for
Sports Governance”, one requirement
of receiving public funding is a board
that has at least 30% women and
at least 30% men.
Almost all of the governing bodies
have already reached that target, or
have at least been able to demonstrate
sufficient progress. Unfortunately,
when we look at professional sports
organisations not in receipt of public
money, we have to ask: where would
that pressure come from? It should
come from a whole range of places –
the public perception, a desire for
fairness and better recruitment
practices and the benefits of better
governance. However, we can see that
significant progress is not happening.
It is not unlawful to have an
unbalanced board, but having one
suggests that something is not right.
As with any such topic, there can
be pushback when this matter is
discussed. A senior politician typified
such attitudes when earlier this year
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he declared people were “tired of the
equality bandwagon”, and complained
about “feminist bigotry” in continually
raising the topic of gender inequality.
A similar comment was made that
there is already well-established
equality legislation and so this should
no longer be an issue; interestingly,
I have never heard a politician argue
that just because we have criminal law
there should no longer be any crime.
Yet there is a very strong case
to make here, irrespective of such
attitudes. Better, more successful
boards are characteristically more
balanced in terms of gender and
have embraced the idea of equality
as being a better way of governance.
Setting quotas would not be legal,
but positive action is permitted, and it
can be embraced without necessarily
making too many changes.
The recruitment process itself is an
obvious place to start. For example,
you can ensure that you have a
recruitment policy that is rigorous in
examining where you look to recruit
people from and asks if you are going
outside your immediate circle when
looking to fill a vacancy.
You can also be creative in
recruitment and ask whether you
are looking too closely at the
specification, rather than at the skills
needed to do the role. The impact
on an organisation’s success can be
dramatic when an appointment brings
in a broader perspective and different
A good example is Dame Fiona
Reynolds. As Director of the National
Trust, she brought to the role her own
experience of going to National Trust
properties with small children.
The properties were too often set
up as if families visiting with children
were a hazard, to be kept back so that
they wouldn’t damage the properties.
She took the attitude that the Trust
had to welcome everyone and the
changes she made to the way its
properties were run led to a significant
increase in membership.
Returning to sport, you can see
the way that a woman’s different
experience and perspective could help
change a sport like football, or perhaps
introduce a new business model.
The conduct of crowds at a traditional
football match is quite intimidating
and I am not sure I would take my child
along to a match by myself. Yet, the
set-up in women’s football matches
is more like the model we see with
American sporting events – much
more family focused and more
inclusive all-round. If the clubs wish to
align themselves with their governing
The impact on an
can be dramatic when an
appointment brings in a
broader perspective and
different life experience.
bodies’ strategies for growing female
participation, then change should start
from within the boardroom. It is not
just about “doing the right thing”.
The hard-nosed commercial reality
is that diverse boards are proven to
be more commercially successful.
While some may consider certain
sports to have reached saturation
point – whether in terms of fan base
or income – this is to ignore that most
sports have barely scratched the
surface with half of the population.
The national women’s games are
leading the way in terms of attracting
huge audiences; this year more people
watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup
final than watched the Wimbledon
Men’s Singles final. Ultimately there
is much to play for.
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