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UK Sport and Sport England told to continue push for boardroom equality

Tom Morgan
British Cycling appointed Julie Harrington as its chief executive in March 2017 - Copyright (c) 2013 Rex Features. No use without permission.

Women now account for 40 per cent of top executives at sporting bodies after a dramatic drive to redress the gender imbalance in boardrooms.

However, UK Sport and Sport England have now been told to turn their attentions to the “urgent” need to tackle under representation of ethnic minorities and disabled candidates.​

Slow progress has been made on black and minority ethnic group representation, accounting for just 5.2 per cent of all board members. In addition, only five per cent of board members declared or consider themselves to have a disability – compared to around 22 per cent in the wider UK population.​

The governing bodies have staged major recruitment drives for women over the past two years after facing criticism that they were lagging behind government guidelines to have at least 30 per cent women on their boards. In 2017, the Women in Sport campaign group discovered women on boards had fallen by six per cent since 2014. Two years ago nine of 68 organisations had no women in senior leadership roles below chief executive level.​

Dame Katherine Grainger, the chair of UK Sport, said she was “pleased but not content” with the progress, as she expressed hope boardrooms will eventually become fully representative of the female population. “There’s no reason it can’t be higher again,” she told Telegraph Sport.​

Grainger also recognised the various bodies reliant on government funding had more work to do to tackle representation of ethnic minorities and disabled candidates.​

“The main work is making sure the culture has changed,” she said. “It’s not just a numbers game. It’s the feeling that people from background, gender and experience can feel that the door is open.”​

Over the past two years, the likes of British Cycling, the Rugby Football Union and the Football Association have all recruited new women executives.​

Sport England and UK Sport are now turning their attention to “improving the wider diversity on sports boards”. Perrett Laver, a consultancy, will be responsible for identifying and developing a pool of senior, experienced board candidates from a variety of backgrounds including black, Asian and minority ethnic, disabled and LGBT candidates.​

Nick Bitel, chair of Sport England, said: “While the greater representation now being seen of women on boards is welcome, the overall picture of diversity in its broadest sense is completely unacceptable and requires practical action and greater, faster change.”​

Nicky Morgan, the culture secretary, added: “While it is encouraging that significant progress has been made in recruiting women to sport organisation boards, urgent work is needed so that leadership at this level is truly representative of society.”