We’re rightly proud of our amazing sportswomen. But there aren’t enough women in the boardrooms of sports’ national governing bodies. Maria Miller asks: what can be done?
At last summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games it was British women leading the gold rush. From Jess Ennis to Laura Trott, Ellie Simmonds to Sarah Storey, our top female athletes wowed the watching sporting world
They helped put women’s sport on the map. They are now household names and inspirational role models for young women up and down the country. Participation rates among women are on the rise, while broadcast coverage of women’s sport has also increased after London 2012 with the public eager to see more.
But one area where there is still considerable room for improvement is the number of women in the boardrooms of sports’ national governing bodies.
Today a report entitled ‘Trophy Women?’, from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, shows that the percentage of women on publicly-funded sports governing bodies boards has stayed flat at 22% year-on-year. Since 2009 it has only increased by one per cent.
This has got to change and it’s why we now expect those bodies who receive public money; the likes of the Football Association, Lawn Tennis Association and England and Wales Cricket Board, to have at least 25% of their board made up of women by 2017. Currently 32 out of the 56 sports that receive public money do not meet that expectation.
This is not about tokenism or being politically correct. It is about the benefits that a diverse board can bring to the bodies for which they work. Sports bodies get investment from the Exchequer and Lottery players to improve both male and female sport participation. I truly believe that that aim can be more effectively achieved if there is a better gender balance at the top.
Women are playing more sport than ever
Women are taking to sport in great numbers. Since we won the bid for London 2012 in 2005 one million more women are taking part in sport and physical activity which is brilliant, but it is not enough. There is still an issue around some women leaving sport behind when they’re school days are over, and this is a serious concern, the Government and Sport England has a £1 billion strategy in place to target 14-25 year olds and increasing their opportunities to get involved in sport. This includes ‘Active Women’, a bespoke programme getting women living in deprived areas participating in sport.
Over recent months, we have seen an improvement in the media coverage of women’s sport which is to be truly commended. I am encouraged that BBC Sport is broadcasting the women’s FA cup final in May and European Football Championships this summer as well as covered the recent women’s cricket world cup. And BT Sport securing the rights to the Women’s Tennis tour is also good news.
Boards are missing a huge talent pool
Women have such an important and powerful role to play in sport but this current lack of representation on boards mean that sports and those inspired by them, are missing out on a huge talent pool and all the added benefits a diverse leadership team can bring.
We have more women in work than ever before and on some boards we are making real progress, 17.3% of FTSE 100 company boards are now made up of women compared to 12.5% in 2010. However women make up half the workforce in Britain, and it is not acceptable that they are disproportionately under-represented in more senior positions across all industries including sports.
Both the CEO of the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation and I will be meeting later today with representatives of sports boards, recruitment consultants and independent experts to address exactly this issue. Working together we can hopefully build an approach that will ensure that more women both aspire to and are successful on the boards of our sports bodies. In the short term we’ll soon be advertising seven positions to be filled on the Sport England and UK Sport boards, both organisations which are led by extremely capable female chief executives, and I hope to see applications from a diverse range of people for those board roles.