Written by Jen Offord


Board silly

Gender parity in boardrooms has been a hot topic for a long time. And rightly so. Jen Offord takes a look at the makeup of boards in the sporting world. Is she surprised?

Boardroom table and chairsThere’s a lot of chit chat about women’s representation on the boards of big businesses, these days, and quite rightly so. We make up more than 50 per cent of the population, so it’s probably fair enough to expect that we might make up at least 25 per cent of boardrooms, right? I’m sure I don’t need to do the maths for you (unless you are really bad at maths) but that’s not even half of our half (I think).

Across the board, no pun intended, women are under-represented in executive and leadership roles, so what would you say if I told you that representation of women on the boards of sports’ National Governing Bodies, in England and Wales, is now higher than in FTSE100 companies? You’d laugh, right? You’d say, “But the business world has Mary Portas and that Tory lady who makes expensive pants! Women don’t care about boxing and boxing doesn’t care about women!”

Well, you’d kind of be right if we were talking about boxing on its own (I’m getting to that bit), but not so on average. Research published today by Women in Sport indicates that representation of women on these boards has hit 30 per cent. That’s pretty good going if we consider last time Women in Sport released data on this, back in 2009, it was only 21 per cent. Better still when you consider the target is only 25 per cent.

“Only 17 per cent of the board of British Cycling, the governing body of the sport I hailed two weeks ago as a huge success story in women’s sports, is made up of women, even if they are doing brilliant things elsewhere.”

Twenty five per cent is the same target FTSE100 companies (within which, according to research by the Guardian, back in March this year, there were more men called John leading FTSE100 companies than there were female bosses altogether) – until a few days ago when FTSE announced that, as they’d hit 26.1 per cent, they might as well revise their target to 33 per cent. Though in related news, much like that “Switzerland, what the fuck?” moment during the closing credits of Suffragette, in 2011 only 12.5 per cent of FTSE100 board members were women.

So why is it better in the manly man’s world of sport? I would argue – on a completely unproven basis of zero research, you understand – that unlike the FTSE100, these governing bodies are publicly funded and it’s necessary for the government not to score too badly when it comes to equality (although apparently not so when it comes to taxing me to spare the world sight of my uterus lining. Sorry, I digress).

But let’s not get sidetracked by my cynicism: it is still progress and still a good thing. It might even result in greater equality in sport and, you know, the world, somewhere down the line. For example, humour me for a minute: women in leadership might make more decisions in the interests of women, which could empower more women to play sport at an elite level, which would deepen the talent pool, making women’s sport more sought after by media outlets and commercial investment thus inspiring even more women to play sport, recreationally and improve the health of a nation.

paper dollsSo are we done here? That’s nearly a third – surely we’re cooking with gas, now? Well, maybe not; if we “dig a little deeper”, the report warns, we might find there is “still cause for concern.” That’s the bastard thing about averages: they mask a multitude of sins. Or rather, the 26 of the 63 governing bodies with more than 30 per cent women making up board members masks the 29 that don’t even meet the 25 per cent target.

Only 17 per cent of the board of British Cycling, the governing body of the sport I hailed two weeks ago as a huge success story in women’s sports, is made up of women, even if they are doing brilliant things elsewhere. Over at GB Boxing (I told you I was getting there) and the Football Association (the latter being another sport where great strides are being made, for women), only eight per cent of the board are women.

Of the report’s findings, Women in Sport’s CEO, Ruth Holdaway, said: “While we are encouraged at progress made, it cannot be right that almost half of the organisations we surveyed still fail to meet guidelines of 25 per cent gender diversity. It is simply not good enough that, six years on from our first Trophy Women report, female executives are still reporting the same barriers in attaining senior roles in the sector.”

All of which makes it all the more worrying to hear recent stories such as that the FA’s independent board member – and the head of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board – Heather Rabbatts, is being formally investigated for having an opinion on José Mourinho’s recent treatment of the Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro. So that’d be an opinion on inclusion, then? Still, as Mourinho will attest, the FA will investigate anything.


  • googleplus
  • linkedin
  • rss
  • pinterest

Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen