I'll Be Happiest About Women In Sport Week When We Don't Need It Anymore
This article first appeared in Huffington Post.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Women in Sport Week – I should, I was one of the people who devised the idea. The thing that would make me happiest is when someone in the industry moots the point that isn’t it a bit…. err…. old fashioned. Redundant. Quaint. Unnecessary? That would mean our work was done.
The worst bit about ‘women in’ initiatives, in any sector, is that females should be such an inherent part of it that it seems odd to differentiate us purely based on gender. Having worked in media and publishing as well as sports and technology, I can honestly say that – despite a markedly lower number of women in the latter sectors – levels of inherent sexism are on par. Football is no worse than rugby, rugby is no worse than newspapers, newspapers are no better than tennis and tennis is no different from technology. In short, in every industry the enlightened walk the same corridors as the sexists and you can’t spot the difference just by looking at their shoes.
After two decades in sport, people still question what it is like being in a ‘man’s world’. This never fails to surprise me as I tend to think of people as being talented, likeable or efficient (or not) rather than whether they are male or female first and those qualities second. Seemingly not everyone does this but since that places them in the group titled ‘idiots’, in my world they get put to one side so their relevance is diminished. I am lucky, I have this luxury, young women trying to get into the sector do not. That is why Women in Sport Week is so important.
Let’s hope that it isn’t just women who embrace this week. The whole ‘He for She’ concept was raised in Emma Watson’s UN address and, whilst it struck a chord, the institutional change it affected is questionable. That’s why equality initiatives need to challenge their sectors with meaningful targets. In sport this could be more broadcast hours of women’s sport or a percentage increase of female board members or coaches. One year later a huge fuss should be made when these ambitions were - or weren’t - realized.
Having grown up in a culture of ‘if you are good enough, you are the right gender enough’, I now believe this isn’t the answer to more women progressing at work. McKinsey’s report into the subject clearly shows that quotas are needed to achieve gender parity. Again, it comes to setting targets, getting buy-in from stakeholders and then feeling collective discomfort if these targets are missed. ‘Collective discomfort’ is the key point here – having a 30 second conversation and saying ‘sorry’ whist squirming a bit simply isn’t good enough. The bigger the entity, the more external force should be applied to ensure they are right thinking and behaving. If that means government sanctions, it’s a pity but so be it.
Both my current companies, ENS Sports PR and The Sports Technology Awards, operate in areas widely seen as the preserve of men. At the risk of sounding most unsisterly, I believe change extends to women’s attitudes - bear with me. For last year’s awards we endeavored to secure as many women judges as men; our failure was abject. There are c.30 judges on the awards panel and more than 20 women were invited to join it; four agreed. The ones who declined largely did so because they either felt they had insufficient time or didn’t know enough about technology to warrant their place. Conversely, not one man asked said no. Surely they are as pressed for time and largely enjoy the same degree of industry knowledge as their female counterparts?
Undeterred we are still on a mission to secure 15+ women onto this year’s judging panel and are making a much better fist of it. All will be revealed when we announce the judging panel on 15th November at www.sportstechnologyawards.com. We have also created new elements to the 2017 awards, a Sports Technology Power List and the search to find the Sports Tech Young Exec – who knows, maybe we will be pleasantly surprised by the gender split of both? More heartening still is if one of this year’s Young Execs find that ‘Women in…’ initiatives are redundant within their working lifetime. Fingers crossed.