Accelerating women’s progress in the workplace

To be at its most effective our sector needs to reflect modern society.

The latest government strategy for sport outlines several demographic groups whose engagement in sport and physical activity is well below the national average, including disabled people, those in lower socio-economic groups, older people and women and girls. Establishing a more diverse mix of individuals on boards across sport, which includes tackling the current gender imbalance, is one of the most effective ways to develop effective strategies to reach these traditionally under-represented groups. With diversity you get a breadth of ideas and perspectives which you simply don’t get from a group of similar age, gender and social background.

Much of this lack of diversity can be put down to unconscious bias. As part of our Alliance Learning Week, Dr AJ Rankin-Wright and Professor Kevin Hylton from the Centre for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Leeds Beckett University will deliver a webinar on this very topic, providing practical examples of how you recognise and counter unconscious bias. The webinar will be made available on Thursday 16 March – for more details on how to get involved click here.

Our 2017 Sports Summit in May will continue to explore how organisations can create cultures and behaviours which lead to good governance across the sector.

In the meantime, what more can and should sports boards be doing to achieve gender parity?

1.       Avoid Unconscious Bias - Recognise your own biases and break the tendency to rely on stereotypes even if you don’t consciously believe in them. Recruitment is one area where unconscious bias and perceived gender prejudice comes into play. Boards can avoid this through an open and transparent recruitment process: consider the use of language that appeals to both men and women equally in job adverts. Similarly, it is just as important to remember that the phrases used to encourage and promote women towards board positions does not exclude men from applying as well.  

2.       Embrace ChangeThe message from the top should strive to portray a supportive culture through areas such as creating a work-life balance and introducing flexible working arrangements. Another area that can work towards change is to provide transparency and diversity training for everyone within the organisation.

3.       Opportunities for Progression Create opportunities for women to progress towards leadership. This not only helps to create talent pathways but it also helps boards manage succession planning. Organisations can generate other opportunities for women by exposing female employees to finance team, executive team, and other functions. Look to appoint mentors to create a support system for ambitious women, focus on those in their early to mid-career to make sure they have the opportunities to pursue top positions and encourage them to join leadership development programmes.

4.       Focus on People Many organisations focus on process or skills but fail to notice the personalities and potential talents in their employees. Whilst it is important to set expectations and goals for staff, recognising objectives such as individual strengths and successes could help you identify prospective talent within the organisation. Having informal conversations, taking an active interest in their careers and being open minded about their family responsibilities will help combat the career barriers for women and allow them to proactively plan their careers.