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Sport England networking event encourages greater diversity in sport leadership

Krystyna Volleyball Hero

University of East London and Sport England host first networking opportunity in 'Diversity in Non-Executive Leadership' campaign

In a bid to encourage more diversity in sport leadership, East London Sport, at the University of East London, together with Sport England, hosted a special panel discussion and networking event at the University’s SportsDock on 3 October.

The event was the first networking opportunity in the ‘Diversity in Non-Executive Leadership’ campaign, an initiative by Sport England and recruitment specialist Perrett Laver, with support from UK Sport, to increase diversity in sport governance. 

Phil Smith, Sport England’s director of sport, told a large crowd representing a wide range of organisations that evidence shows that boards composed of a diverse membership perform better than boards of similar makeup.

He said, “It is our view that sporting organisations have a unique opportunity to be beacons of equality and inclusion, and to champion the benefits of diversity in a way that is unparalleled in other sectors.

“Perhaps most importantly, we also fundamentally believe that organisations miss out when they do not capitalise on the talent and skills of a wider population, or draw from the breadth of the communities they serve. To introduce diversity means to inject scrutiny and critical challenge, generate new ideas and innovation, and capitalise on different skills and perspectives, ultimately enabling better decision making. The evidence is clear; diverse boards perform better.”

Yet research released last month by Sport England shows that just 5.2 per cent of all board members identified across Sport England and UK Sport-funded bodies are BAME. The same study found that 40 per cent of board members are women.

The new research into diversity in sport governance showed that while there are now more women board members, diversity in areas such as ethnicity and disability remains a challenge and slower progress has been made on BAME representation. Only 5 per cent of board members declared or considered themselves to have a disability, compared to around 22 per cent in the wider UK population.

Sport England board member Chris Grant, who served as deputy chair of International Inspiration, London 2012’s international development programme and is a member of the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport, chaired the panel discussion.

Key speakers included Vanessa Varvas, Chief Marketing Officer at the University of East London; Dr Rimla Akhtar MBE, a multi-award winning and internationally acclaimed diversity and intersectionality authority; organisational and community consultant and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, a former wheelchair racer who is one of Great Britain's most decorated athletes.

Ms Varvas, a keen advocate of equality, diversity and inclusion and the power of physical activity and sport, said, “We are one of London’s leading sport institutions and we exist to increase the diversity pipeline into industry, and sport is a key vehicle for student and institutional success. Our focus in this area means we are committed to closing the attainment and employability gap across the institution. We will be launching this month the first Office for institutional Equity in the country to address this. 

“With such a large focus of diversity across all parts of intersectionality, this vital work is something that we are continuing to commit to and advance through our connection with Sport England and UK Sport .”

Equality, diversity and inclusion is one of the four key priorities of the University’s Vision 2028 Strategic Framework, serving to enrich the institution’s community and optimise decision-making and resources.

Mr Grant explained that the ‘Diversity in Non-Executive Leadership’ campaign will be delivered in five tranches, the first of which is now complete. 

He said, “Interest has been high from both potential candidates and the sector, and we anticipate that by the end of this tranche of work nearly 100 candidates will be signed up. While new candidates are currently being inducted daily, the first tranche focused heavily on the identification of BAME candidates. Moving forward, we will focus on securing interest from candidates with disabilities as well as greater representation from LGBTQ communities. Gender, faith, socio economic background and age also remain forefront of mind.

“We are confident that as we continue to work with the great talented individuals coming forward, many more will have joined the boards of national governing bodies, active partnerships, and charitable trusts by the end of 2020. 

The diversification process started last year as Sport England, with funding from the National Lottery and the government, invested £400,000 in identifying and enabling diverse candidates to be ‘board ready’. The networking event at SportsDock at the University of East London is the first of a series to be held at different venues.