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WSFF calls for an end to Board diversity procrastination

The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) today launches its fifth annual Trophy Women? report at an event to encourage getting more women on sports’ governing bodies’ Boards, hosted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The report shows little progress in the number of women on Boards in sport. Astonishingly, nearly half (49%) of National Governing Bodies (NGBs) in sport have less than a quarter of women on their Boards. This is only a slight improvement on the 55% of NGBs with less than a quarter of women on their Boards in 2009.

The report, supported by Sport England and Hill Dickinson LLP shows that the overall percentage of women on NGB Boards in England has risen from 23% last year to 27%. However, the fact remains that a huge proportion of NGBs are missing out on the proven benefits of having more gender-diverse Boards. The number of women in the most senior leadership roles also remains worrying low with little over 10% acting as Chairs and only a third in Chief Executive positions.

Last year, in order to accelerate progress towards making NGB Boards more gender-diverse, Sport England included an expectation in their governance guidelines for NGBs that their Boards should comprise at least 25% women[1] by 2017. Only 23 of the 45 NGBs surveyed currently meet this target.

Whilst supportive of the Sport England target, WSFF believes more is required. WSFF is calling for all NGB Boards to aim for at least 30% female Board membership, as studies show this is the tipping point at which overall performance increases significantly.

Ruth Holdaway, CEO for WSFF, said: “I find it shocking that in 2014, we still have so few women in leadership positions in sport. Reaching a 30% diversity threshold for NGB Boards by 2017 is entirely possible. There is a wide and varied pool of talented women actively seeking these roles.  NGBs have no excuse, and are missing out by being so male dominated at the highest levels.  We want to see this change, and fast – and we will continue through the Women’s Sport Network and other means to support NGBs and the women who serve on their Boards.”

Karren Brady, Vice Chair of West Ham United and member of the DCMS Women in Sport Advisory Board, said:  “There has been some good progress increasing the profile of women’s sport since London 2012. However there is still more that needs to be done. I want to see more women on sports Boards to help shape and run sport in this country and better represent what women want. There are some fantastic, talented women in the business world that can take their knowledge, expertise and sound judgement into sports administration.”

Key statistics:

  • There are 123 women on the Boards of NGBs, an increase from 23% in 2013 to 27%.
  • 10 of the 45 NGBs audited now have female Chief Executives, up from eight in 2013.
  • Across the four senior roles surveyed[2], an average of just 21% of these are held by women.
  • Only 15 NGBs have a female Development Director (down from 18 last year) and just eight employ a female Performance Director.

Minister for Sport and Equalities Helen Grant said: “I want to see women’s sport stronger across the board with more women and girls participating, greater media coverage and more women at the top of sports governing bodies. There have been improvements in the last couple of years but I want the pace to quicken. Today’s event is about putting sports bodies and successful business women in the same room to network and see what more we can do together to boost women’s sport.”

Sport England Chief Executive, Jennie Price, said: “The latest figures from WSFF show we are making progress, but there is much more to do. There is no shortage of excellent female candidates, and where sports have appointed women to their Boards, they are making a significant contribution. I strongly urge those NGBs that have not reached the 25% threshold to take steps to do so before 2017.”

Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investments and member of the DCMS Women in Sport Advisory Board, said: “Women’s sport is on the rise but there is still a big gap to close with men’s sport on many fronts. I want to see more companies and businesses backing women’s sport and more women on sports Boards representing female interests.”

Louise Millington-Roberts, Partner at Hill Dickinson LLP Sports, Media and Entertainment team said:“We’re extremely proud of our involvement in the fifth annual Trophy Women? report because of our strong commitment to supporting diversity in the workplace. Quite simply, there should be more women in leadership roles within sport and we are keen to do all we can to help address this issue. It needs to change and it can, but we need to keep talking about it and actively addressing the issue if it is to change. We all know that the sports industry will be better for it and it is a responsibility shared by all.”