Loughborough University’s John Steele: Culture change needs to reach the top

March 2019

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.

John Steele, Executive Director of Sport at Loughborough University, explains the changes and progress that he has seen throughout his long career. Steele has held chief executive roles at UK Sport, the RFU and Youth Sport Trust. He was also a professional rugby player and coach.

What progress has been made to address the culture of sport and what challenges remain?

Over the past 10-15 years we have seen real progress in the influence of women in some key leadership roles in high-performance sport and sport more broadly. This is starting to change the culture within sport but now needs to spread to more NED (non-executive director) roles on boards, coaching and performance director roles, where diversity and inclusion is less evident.

Culture is difficult to change. Often management solutions are created to address cultural challenges, which may go some of the way to creating initial momentum for change, but is never the complete solution.. When it comes to culture, changing the way people think and behave has to be the focus and when it comes to gender equality, challenging unconscious bias is hugely significant.

There is some exceptional young talent starting out in the sport sector in the UK today and we need to show them a viable path that they can progress along, to have a meaningful career as a leader, coach, practitioner or any other sporting role, regardless of gender and based on merit.