Governance in sport - Are you benefiting from diversity?

Disability and ethnicity

“The UK sports sector has been taking significant steps to improve its gender imbalance through the Women in Sport initiative, which has so far been immensely successful. However, there is still a way to go before reaching gender equality.” – Sarah Hillary 

Respondents to our recent Sports Governance survey reported that only 4% of board members in their bodies were from ethnic minorities, and only 3% were disabled.  As a percentage of the population, 18% of working age adults in the UK are disabled1, and 13% of the population of England and Wales are ethnic minorities2. Although a significant amount of work is being done in sport to improve diversity, the survey results confirm there is still a long way to go.

So why is sport slow out of the blocks when it comes to diversity?

The lack of diversity on the boards of sports organisations and in the top tiers of sports management both in terms of ethnicity and disability means that they are not benefiting from these talent pools. To combat this, organisations must ensure they remove any impediments which prevent those from underrepresented communities joining their boards or taking up fulfilling careers in sports leadership.

Sport England and UK Sport published ‘A Code for Sports Governance’, which came into effect in April 2017. Currently, there is no set target for the representation of ethnic minorities or disabled individuals at board level set out in the Code, whereas there is for gender.

Increasing diversity should arise from a genuine desire to benefit from the difference of experience, background and perspective that diverse communities can contribute. However, whilst the strategic benefits of diversity have been widely accepted, in practice it can be difficult to put in place. Both because of the challenges of tapping in this talent pool, but also because there can be a tension between the demand for diversity and finding individuals to serve with the right skill set.

We believe that organisations looking to cultivate greater diversity and inclusivity in their organisations can help to attract more talented disabled and ethnically diverse people to their organisations through taking some simple steps:
  • Have a clear diversity strategy in place which outlines your organisational commitment to diversity and how you intend to go about increasing numbers.
  • Develop a brief diversity statement which can be included in vacancies and on application forms.
  • Think outside of the box in terms of where you place advertisements of vacancies to maximise the visibility of your vacancy to groups you are looking to attract.
  • Use your existing network – there is no harm in asking existing board members or other stakeholders if they know of good people.  As long as once they are identified, all other aspects of the selection process reverts to the designated process.
  • Use sub-committees and working groups as a means to building skills and experience in candidates who show potential. This also supports your successional arrangements. 
Whilst increased diversity is challenging to achieve and will not happen overnight, partaking in the benefits of difference could help take your organisation to the next level.

Women in sport

Our survey found that responding organisations had relatively good female representation, with women making up 35% of board members at the sports organisations surveyed3, compared with 28% on FTSE 100 boards4. The ‘Code for Sports Governance’ sets out a mandatory 30% gender diversity requirement for sports bodies seeking public funding. However, achieving parity should be the target, rather than just the minimum mandated by the Code.

Women’s representation in playing professional sport such as rugby and football has certainly improved, but now it is time to ensure this equality of representation extends all the way to board level.  A diverse range of perspectives at the top is essential to prevent ‘group think’ and stagnation, as women on boards can provide more varied views to drive innovation. Time and again, greater gender diversity at the leadership level of organisations makes for greater success.

Encouraging more women into the sports sector is vital, and then to retain talent at the top level, they need to be incentivised to progress. Organisations must proactively demonstrate that women in sport have the potential to go all the way to the top.
1 The percentage of working-age people reporting a disability: Family Resources Survey 2015/16, ONS – most recent data available
2 ONS Census data, 2011 – most recent data available
3 The Female FTSE Board Report 2017, Cranfield University
4 Women in Sport Beyond 30% February 2017 


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