Sports organisations should strive towards better gender balance among their top executives, as women can generate new business by generating increased ‘consumer’ understanding and different arguments, says Amanda Bennett, chair of the European Women and Sport group, in an interview with EURACTIV.
Asked whether sports organisations are necessarily better governed if women share the top positions, Bennett stressed that any organisation with a balanced leadership is a “better organisation” – a fact proven in the private and commercial sectors.
“The most successful companies, those which make the most money, are those which have men and women at the highest levels because they understand the consumer and bring a different style of leadership and business argument,” she continued. If everybody is the same, organisations will come to “a standstill” and stop evolving, she said.
Therefore, when talking about societal factors, sports organisations need to see the “business benefits” of having a balanced leadership, Bennett said. She also stressed that leadership affects the whole chain of command in sports, influencing decisions that affect grassroot sport too.
EU to fund Women’s International Leadership Development (WILD) programme
Bennett is the initiator of the WILD concept and programme, which has already been running in the UK for three years.
The programme is about giving women training, bringing them together in workshops and boosting networking within their sport. The aim is to empower more women to become sports leaders within their organisations.
“If an organisation has skilled, confident and competent individuals, it has to make sure it makes the most out of them,” Bennett said, deploring the fact that sports organisations fail to maximise the talents of competent and skilled women.
The UK experience has proved so successful that the EU is now providing €250,000 to roll out the programme into six other EU countries. WILD is one of the first 18 projects sharing €4 million of EU money for sport projects in the framework of the first ‘preparatory actions in the field of sport’ (EURACTIV 07/12/09).
WILD is “a strategic investment in developing not just women as leaders but women operating in their sport organisations and influencing those organisations” to improve sport provision for women, Bennett said.
She stressed that the UK experience shows that the programme has worked not only for women, but also for the sports organisations concerned.
Positive action needed to increase sports participation
While Bennett is opposed to positive discrimination as a means of increasing the number of women in top sport jobs, she recognises that “better recognition of the skills of a woman” is needed.
She also wants people to stop pitying about “traditional” societal factors, like lack of time and child care, which may hinder women from being physically active. Sport can do things like provide child care or give women discounts on club membership fees, she suggested.
“It is not enough to say that the door is open, and if the women don’t walk through it is their fault. We need to change our mindsets on this and do something in particular to make sport women-friendly,” she argued.