Diversity dividend | Five ways sports bodies can encourage diversity and inclusion

Formula One drivers take a knee on the grid in support of the Black Lives Matter movement ahead of the British Grand Prix (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images).

The Black Lives Matter movement has forced businesses and organisations from every walk of life to reevaluate their diversity and inclusion policies – sport included.

The large numbers of black and ethnic minority (BAME) athletes that do so much to drive revenues in the sector are not replicated at boardroom level in most sports federations, associations and agencies.

After writing an impassioned column calling on the sports industry to recognise the economic and cultural benefits of greater diversity, Tony Simpson, partner and head of sport and media practice, Savannah Group, asked for SportBusiness’ help in convening a webinar to explore the topic in greater depth.

He gathered a group of senior BAME executives in the sports sector to discuss the issues they have faced personally, the advantages of more internationally-oriented boards, and to suggest ways for the industry to increase diversity and inclusion in its workforce.

Here we summarise their discussions and five strategies they outlined for ensuring diversity and the resultant business dividends are delivered.

The panellists included Jason Gardener MBE, president UK Athletics, Yath Gangakumaran, director of strategy and business development, Formula 1; Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, chief executive, Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA; William Louis Marie, chief executive, World Squash and Michael Bolingbroke, former chief executive officer, FC Internazionale Milan; and ex- chief operating officer, Manchester United.

Benita Fitzgerald Mosley

Increase candidate pools to reduce unconscious bias

The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee recently started increasing the size of its recruitment candidate pools and selecting a larger proportion of black and ethnic minority (BAME) applicants at the interview stage when recruiting for its executive positions. Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, a former chief of organisational excellence and chief operating officer for USOPC, referenced a Harvard Business Review study that found this approach helped to reduce unconscious bias against BAME candidates.

“If you have a pool of three candidates and one of them is a person of colour, a woman, or a person with a disability, the chances of that individual [getting the job] is about zero,” she said. “If you have four candidates and half of the candidates are people of colour, women or people with disability, the chances of each of those individuals getting the job moves to 50 per cent.”

Diversity isn’t a trade-off – make the board larger

William Louis Marie, chief executive, World Squash, spoke of the sense of isolation he sometimes feels as one of the few BAME senior leaders in sport.

“You look around you and [there] are sometimes only a handful of people of colour in a room with 200, 300, 400 executives at a sporting body level,” he said.

Simpson said the feeling of being in a minority created an additional burden to succeed as a flag bearer for the BAME community: “it’s something I hadn’t realised in the job that I do: the pressure on one individual in my own career. You have to perform.”

As a solution, Fitzgerald Mosley suggested sports organisations should aim to employ more than one BAME board member to ‘normalise’ diversity and emphasised that this shouldn’t be seen as a threat to existing members.

“Some people approach this as a zero-sum game – ‘If we add or include more people of colour there is less for me’. I think that point of view has to go away,” she said.

“The only way that goes away is by adding those folks. Make the board larger – add two people to the board, so you don’t feel like you’ve got to trade off board members in order to get more people to come in.”

Don’t forget the inclusion in diversity and inclusion

“It’s great if you’ve got someone of colour on the board but it doesn’t actually mean anything if they’re not able to feel comfortable,” said Yath Gangakumaran, director of strategy and business development, Formula 1.

Yath Gangakumaran

He said the motorsport’s decision to get rid of its ‘Grid Girls’ – the scantily-dressed female models that used to appear in opening ceremonies at Grand Prix – was an example of how new owners Liberty Media had embraced the benefits of a more inclusive attitude to its workforce and truly listened to the views of an increasingly diverse group of senior executives.

“With a new leadership team, some of whom had different views, they created a culture where we felt we were being included and that our views – that this [was] outdated, and we were on the wrong side of history if we continued with the Grid Girls – were heard.

“So not only do you have diversity, in that you’ve got a BAME executive, you’ve got female executives now in Formula One, but we have an inclusive culture, which means that they actually listen to our perspectives.”

What gets measured gets done

Fitzgerald Mosely described how she applied her experiences of assessing gender diversity in the telecommunications industry to implement a diversity and inclusion scorecard for the USOPC and each of its 47 national governing bodies.

“I love the adage: ‘what gets measured gets done,’” she said. “We were the first national major sports league, if you will, to make that data public.”

The USOPC also created a succession-planning programme to identify senior executives from minority groups called FLAME – Finding leaders among minorities everywhere.

Although she said the system had proved successful in increasing the amount of BAME representation in senior positions within the US Olympic family to just under 20 per cent, she said she remained frustrated that there were still few BAME leaders at the very top of these organisations.

Colin Kaepernick (Credit: Getty Images)

Think about the triple bottom line, but don’t be a hypocrite

“Increasingly you’re seeing organisations that do have diverse leadership outperforming the market,” said Gangakumaran, referencing the theory that businesses should begin to think about a “triple bottom line” in which they assess their social and environmental performance alongside financial metrics.

“Just look at Nike. As soon as they made [Colin] Kaepernick the face of their brand, their stock market price went to the highest it’s ever been,” he added.

But Simpson said the brand was guilty of undermining its stand against racism with some of its tax avoidance strategies and recruitment approach.

“Yes, they were brave and they created some brand equity with Kaepernick but their board is still not as diverse as it could be,” he said. “And some of the people who suffer the most from tax avoidance are the very people they are looking to support.”

If you missed the Diversity Dividend webinar the first time around, you can watch it again here.

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