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Opinion: Getting women on board

It’s widely acknowledged that we need greater gender diversity on boards – but how can we achieve this?

by Emma Boggis, Sport & Recreation Alliance | Published in Sports Management Nov Dec 2016 issue 128
The FA’s Heather Rabbatts (far left)at a Downing Street summit / Lewis whyld / press association
The FA’s Heather Rabbatts (far left)at a Downing Street summit/ Lewis whyld / press association

Gender diversity on boards has been a hot topic within the sports sector for some time. National Governing Bodies have been working towards a target of at least 25 per cent female representation by 2017 and many have made good progress, but the new UK Sports Governance Code has now increased this target to 30 per cent.

I think (and definitely hope) the case for board diversity has been won in relation to (but not limited to), gender diversity. I believe most people would agree that having a wide range of perspectives will enrich the quality of the discussion, the relative experience around the board table, the potential to check and challenge perceived wisdom and – ultimately – that it will improve decision making.

From a gender perspective, it seems wrong to think that the perspective, views and opinions of 51 per cent of the population shouldn’t be equally represented, particularly in a sector that needs to compete for customer attention.

Active recruitment
However, making the case theoretically and implementing it are two different things, and the latter certainly should not be considered either easy or achieved. We won’t get more women on boards by simply including something on the job description that says we welcome or particularly encourage applications from women – we must look for them and make them aware of the opportunities that exist in sport and how they can contribute.

It’s also important that organisations establish a recruitment process based on skills. Whether you’ve elected or appointed directors, a skills audit allows you to identify which skills you need and which ones are already represented.

You can then specifically target the gaps and go looking in the right places for the people you need. This might lead you to consider advertising to the wider sector and/or to different industries. The broader the search, the more diverse a selection of candidates you’ll encourage to apply.

Diversity of thought
Ultimately, the end goal for any organisation is diversity of ‘thought’, as this leads to better and fresher thinking and avoids group agreement. As a female board member, I don’t want to be always offering the female perspective – usually I’m drawing on my work experience and wider understanding of the sector – but sometimes I’m sure my view will be different from those of my colleagues because I am a woman.

Let’s be clear though – it’s variety that we want. A board that is 100 per cent female (or white or able bodied) would not be the right outcome either.

The new UK Sports Governance Code will be more prescriptive than the sector has been accustomed to across all aspects of diversity, but I look forward to working with our members to understand and implement the new requirements and make sure that the sector continues to stay fit for the future.

Emma Boggis is the CEO of the Sport & Recreation Alliance and a non-executive director of the British Paralympic Association.

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