Diversity in sport Tick box or real change?

Susie Simpson, lead ambassador ED&I, IoD Scotland

I have had a series of “wow” moments over the last month as I continue to learn and look at the world of Fairness, Diversity & Inclusion with a different lens.

I hosted my very first “LinkedIn Live” session in January (a “wow” moment in itself that I managed to chair a discussion with three amazing individuals and not mess up the tech for a full 30 mins!) and have continued from that moment onwards to be left astonished almost every day by the stories people have approached me with on this topic.

The session was titled “Diversity in Sport: A tick box or real change?” – and, well, it turns out the answer is the latter … and in spades! It seems to have seized the attention of so many of my contacts who have reached out and want to shout about the many positive actions being taken to move things forward.

You will perhaps have to forgive me for my cynicism as I approached the chairing of this session. As a mum of two boys, who love their rugby but miss their girl-mates when they play, and biased as ever by my own lived experience in a sport like rowing, where we struggle daily to change the “brand” to be seen as a sport where everyone – whatever their age and social background – can thrive and have fun, I had to put my unconscious bias aside to fully appreciate all of the great examples of “real change” which I have heard, from:

● Rishi Jain (of Liverpool FC)’s passionate discussion around the work that Liverpool are doing with the UN to counter hate speech;

● Individuals across my own organisation at PwC who have reached out to tell me their own stories, as rowers, runners, footballers, netballers and beyond, and in broader life/business, to tell me how much they value the diversity which they get being involved in sport;

● an old contact and now new friend (and rowing recruit!) of mine who in her own sport, netball, ran a whole training session with a new player with a hearing impairment where everyone wore earplugs so that all could understand and level the playing field. The new joiner could let their sporting prowess shine through without being hampered by their disability;

● The resilience of so many inspirational women – particularly Claire Nelson of Netball Scotland and Louise Tideswell of Plan4Sport – who bounce back from every challenge they face both personally and professionally and teach me something new every time I speak to them.

At both PwC and in my role as Lead EDI Ambassador for the IoD in Scotland I know that change isn’t easy. I have leaned heavily on the people who really know what they are doing – our advisory groups and others – as I have met barriers to moving forward … and at every step I have learnt that telling stories (of success and failure) and role modelling – giving people ideas of tangible actions they can take (A calendar of events to highlight different cultures? Reverse mentoring programmes? Talking openly and sharing stories? Bouncing back from failures?) – is the only way to effect change. And I do feel we are finally getting there!

So in that vein – I will take my “brave pill” – and our next “LinkedIn Live” session will be on the topic of “allyship”. I firmly believe that our allies and advisers create those role models within organisations to effect real change. Please look out for it and share with others.

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