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What can sport learn from Lord Davies’ review of women on boards?

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Tanni Grey-Thompson

Paralympic gold medallist

Paralympic gold medallist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, chair of the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport, explains why sports governing bodies would benefit from opening their doors to more women.

Last month, Lord Davies published his analysis into why there are so few women on the boards of British businesses, why this matters and what can be done to improve the situation. His report shows that by having more women involved at the top, businesses can expect increased business performance through improved decision making and wider experience of potential opportunities. He recommended that to feel these benefits women should hold at least 25 per cent of board positions.
Woman taking part in sportAs Chair of the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport, established and supported by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, this is also an issue close to my heart, as it is a problem that exists in the sports sector as well. Our recent report Trophy Women? 2010 showed that only 20 per cent of the board positions at the 46 governing bodies (NGBs) of sport which are funded by DCMS and Sport England are held by women. Nearly a quarter of those organisations have no women at all on their boards. Our report provoked some interesting responses, including from the Sport and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson, who made the link between the lack of women in the boardroom and the fact that sports participation rates for women continue to lag well behind those of men.
The logic is clear: if decision makers are “pale, male, and stale”, they are less able to run sport in a way which is appealing to a diverse participation base. Lord Davies has shown us that you get better decision making and superior results if you incorporate diversity into your board and other senior decision making teams. The Minister’s support is very welcome and it is good to see him challenge governing bodies to address this issue.
Lord Davies didn’t go so far as to call for businesses to be forced into adopting quotas. While this was welcomed by some, others called it a missed opportunity. In sport, board quotas have been on the agenda ever since the International Olympic Committee recommended (in 2004) a 20 per cent quota of women on the boards of both International Federations and domestic NGBs.
The sport of triathlon is one of the few sports to have adopted the recommendations and currently both the President and Secretary General of the International Triathlon Union and the President and CEO of the British Triathlon Federation are female, with 33 per cent and 20 per cent of the current statutory board members being women. According to Sarah Springman (President of British Triathlon), the quotas have helped establish a culture of true gender equality within the sport as well improving the dynamics of both boards and led to enhanced performance. Although the quota system is in place, Board Members are still recruited via competency based interviews, which helps to negate the argument that these are token appointments.
Lord Davies has asked FTSE 100 companies to set their own individual targets for increasing gender representation on their boards and to report annually against progress. For my part, the Commission continues to work with NGBs to help them identify how they can increase their gender diversity, whether that’s helping them address constitutional barriers or helping them to find suitable women for their vacancies. What is clear, is that until there is a strong will at a strategic level within governing bodies then progress will continue to be painfully slow and that can only continue to hold back and hurt British sport at a time where we should be celebrating London 2012 and making the most of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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