Women in sport

Women in sport: We must all share the responsibility for making governing bodies diverse.


ACTIONS speak louder than words and this week Sport England and UK Sport were shouting from the rooftops and the message, I hope, was received loud and clear by all. This time they are making sure that their words are indeed put into action.


Together they have created and agreed a new governance strategy on diversity that will become effective from April 2017. This code aims to address the imbalance that is current on many sporting governing bodies by increasing diversity to 30 per cent on all sports boards.


To ensure implementation of this code, they have also advised that sports bodies seeking funding will have to demonstrate their adherence to this code or indeed face financial cut-backs on any further grant-aid they receive.


Why do we need this, should this not be achieved organically? Why do we need to implement a governance code, should this decision not be left to the governing bodies themselves?


The fact is that many bodies are still resistant in embracing change at boardroom level and this is one of the many complex reasons that collectively prevent the varied sections of our society from participating in sport, volunteering in sport, coaching in sport etc.


So the next question must be – What does diversity bring to the boardroom? Diversity in the boardroom brings a variety of benefits and provides a platform for discussion and decision making that is reflective of the wider sporting community.


A good mix of people of different genders, ethnicities, abilities etc., will bring a variety of experience, and the impact of decisions made will be much more reflective of the membership. Individuals who in their own day-to-day workplace are experts in finance, governance, social media, marketing and communications etc., will enhance the skill-set of a board and add a different perspective to decision making. And remember, most importantly these individuals do not need to have been involved in the sport sector to be considered for this role, as long as they have a willingness to contribute to the sport.


The next question that will raise its ugly head is quotas and meritocracy. By forcing governing bodies to become more diverse, are they going to lose out on good quality candidates?


Indeed this will not be the case, let’s look at this fairly, are we saying that from the talent pool available, we only have white middle class males capable of carrying out this role? I really don’t think that this is the case. In my opinion part of the problem for many of the sports is the well-trodden pathway to a seat on the board: This has been traditionally a thank-you bestowed on the people who work in the sector.


It is very difficult to breakdown this type of tradition and the slow moving wheels of constitutional change can be extremely frustrating. It is my friends in some respect, asking turkeys to vote for Christmas!


In 2013 a survey of sports boards at Scottish Governing Body level showed that only 18 out of 28 had a women on their board. In numbers that equated to 219 men sitting on a board and only 39 women. This figure needs to change and it isn’t just the responsibility of the white, middle-class males to make the change: It is the responsibility of us all.


We must actively encourage and support candidates from a diverse background to apply for these roles; women must step up to the plate and put themselves forward.


Let’s make the environment more welcoming to those who may lack confidence and count themselves out of the race, before it has even started.


Let’s work together to identify potential talent and put a programme in place to nurture and support those with the ambition to get involved at an early stage.


The SWiS Conference in 2015 focused on this subject ‘A Culture Change for Women in Sport’ and at that time recommendations were made on how to tackle this issue. In Scotland it is now time for us to stop talking about it and put our words into action.


Let’s make the change happen and reflect our growing and ever welcome diverse sporting community.




Scottish women in sport’s Maureen McGonigle believes we would all benefit from more diverse boardrooms in our sporting bodies


Source: 4th Nov 2016 / Maureen McGonigle , Sports columnist