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Engine Sport’s Lisa Parfitt: 30% isn’t enough

For International Women’s Day, we spoke to leading figures within the sports industry and asked them to reflect on Beyond 30%, Women in Sport’s report on workplace culture in sport. We’re sharing highlights from these interviews ahead of their wider release.

Lisa Parfitt, Managing Director of sports marketing agency Engine Sport, formerly known as Synergy Sport, discusses the positive changes Engine has made to improve gender balance and the challenges that remain in the industry.

How has your organisation improved its culture?

At Engine we have a programme called ‘Better with Balance’ which has been in place for around three years. The objective of the programme is to have 50/50 male-female leaders in the business. The research we have from our own business is that the gender split up to middle management is pretty equal. It’s at a senior level where we start to see a significant drop off and this is reflected in lots and lots of other businesses. The programme has a number of strands chosen based on the barriers for women to leadership positions that we’ve identified and to ensure that we achieve gender parity. It’s about supporting women at various different points in their career, and the ‘Get In’ pillar is about how do we present ourselves as a diverse workplace? For example at Engine Sport we’ve reviewed our job descriptions because it’s very easy in sport to make them sound competitive and aggressive but that tone doesn’t necessarily appeal to women. Our ‘Get Back’ pillar supports women to come back from maternity leave, not only when they come back but also before they leave to make sure they have clear career plans, goals and so they know the business really welcomes and supports them back to the workplace. There’s a ‘Get On’ programme which is a leadership, development and mentor programme for women within the business. What that’s done is created a group of women and men, allies, who are actively supporting the talented women in the business.

What changes could be made to go beyond the 30% gender diversity quota that was brought in by UK Sport as part of the new Code for Sports Governance?

It should be more than 30%. I know there is ambition within that 30% and I know there are governing bodies that are still falling considerably below that, but I don’t think 30% is enough. I think we should be looking at 50%. Organisations need to be made more accountable for the action plans and programmes they have in place to support women, like Engine’s Better with Balance. Sadly, organisations are still riddled with unconscious bias, why shouldn’t those that are publicly funded ensure that everyone undertake unconscious bias training? We all have blind spots based on our upbringing and lifestyle, but we can’t do anything to combat them until we know what they are. I think there could be initiatives like that that we could be tougher to enforce within publicly funded organisations to make sure they’re really uncovering their blind spots to gender.