The Government made clear in their new strategy, Sporting Future, that the new UK Sports Governance Code will be a mandatory requirement for any organisation seeking UK Sport or Sport England funding in the next funding period. This is more important than ever after the government strategy and Sport England’s new strategy, Towards an Active Nation, opened the possibility of funding to a wider range of organisations than ever before. If you want your organisation to be funded you’ll need to be prepared to comply with the new code.
So, what role does workforce diversity have to play in ensuring improved governance standards?
A crucial one, I’d argue. Being able to draw on the skills, experiences and perspectives of people from a variety of backgrounds has been shown to improve decision making, and lead to better performance in all aspects of an organisations work.
Sporting Future identified that there is a ‘particular dearth of women, people from BME backgrounds and disabled people in leadership roles’. We expect the UK Sports Governance Code to increase the current advisory gender diversity target of 25% to a 30% requirement in order to make an impact on the number of women in leadership roles in the sector.
Together with release of a new UK Sports Governance Code; the new strategies of both the Government and Sport England require organisations to adapt to change and this is where diverse skills-based leadership becomes important by challenging the decision making processes.
There is progress being made; with trends such as highly competent leaders at board and executive level being sourced from outside the sporting sector, bringing with them innovative new ideas and a fresh perspective. It can’t be denied that this is beneficial for the sector. However, if we want to make diversity in leadership a sustainable success story we need to address diversity throughout the sporting workforce, rather than being reliant on leaders brought in from other sectors to make the numbers look better.
There are challenges inherent in making diversity a reality – if it were easy the sector would be doing it by now. Tackling these challenges is necessary before we reach a point where diversity in the workforce is self-sustaining. As an example, it’s now common practice for job applications to be considered “blind”, where the reviewer is only given the relevant details and can’t see the Age, Race, Gender etc. of the candidates. This helps tackle bias (unconscious or otherwise) in the process of reviewing received applications, but it doesn’t do anything to encourage a wider number of more diverse applications to be made in the first place. To achieve this, we need to look at how and where we advertise these roles, figuring out what puts people off in the process to make sure we can reach the best candidates for the job, wherever and whoever they may be.
A repeated objection to action on board diversity is that setting targets or quotas will lead to tokenism and tendency to value diversity over competency when recruiting. This doesn’t need to be the case, and it’s important that those pursuing improved board diversity avoid tokenism by recruiting the best qualified candidate. In the short term, advertising as widely as possible to reach new audiences is one way to attract diverse and competent applicants. In the longer term, the sector should be looking at how it develops its own workforce by providing access to training and development opportunities that can create homegrown leaders for the future.
The argument for workforce diversity is unassailable, but acceptance of this is only the first step. Paying lip service to the concept of diversity won’t make it a reality. A proactive approach is necessary, and only those taking action are going to see the benefit.