Sports Industry Powering Diversity and Inclusion

By Taruka Srivastava - 

The topics of “Diversity and Inclusion” have become the new buzz words within the sporting industry.

Workplace diversity and inclusion have without doubt become the most important aspects of modern day recruitment.  It is quintessential to provide all candidates with equal opportunities and therefore, more and more sports organisation are now hiring  a ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ officer.

We asked Marcus Ryder MBA , Head of External Consultancies Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity at Birmingham City University whether he think the sports industry is finally taking 'inclusion' and 'diversity' more seriously as they have started hiring in these categories.

He explains, “We have to be careful not to confuse process with progress. We have seen many industries make large policy announcements in recent years around diversity and inclusion but with limited progress. This problem is beautifully summed up in the book Diversity, Inc.: The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Business by Pamela Newkirk

One example she gives is that between 2014 and 2016, Google spent $265 million dollars on some of the most common tactics for diversifying the workforce but their percentage of black employees remains stubbornly at 2%. That does not mean we should not applaud the new diversity efforts in the sports industry but let's not get too excited, yet.”

As to what more can they do to ensure inclusion and diversity within their organisations, Marcus says: “Ultimately any industry is about money and money is where the power lies. This means we need to focus on the money when it comes to diversity, and not just head count, which is a problem for a lot of diversity policies. We need to look at percentage of salary spend off the field of play, we need to look at which sports are getting funding and where, and which communities they may disproportionately represent, and we look at age demographics - we need to build long term careers for people in sports, too often some people's careers are very short while others last up until retirement.”

The biggest obstacle Marcus thinks is “the idea that you can keep the same existing structure and just add a few more ethnic minority faces, or women, or name the underrepresented group.”

He elaborates:  “Discrimination is structural and we need to change the structures of the industry, which initiatives get funding, how funding is allocated, which sports are funded. Structural change, of any kind, is never easy. Convincing people there needs to be a structural change, as opposed to a cosmetic one, is the most difficult task and then implementing those structural changes takes time and effort. “

Racism, discrimination and inequality in sport continues to be a huge issue despite sport being a powerful vehicle to transform societal issues. Players are being encouraged to use their platform to campaign for change but it is not the role of athletes to fix this problem.

Companies need to go beyond looking at D&I as individual facets and consider all of the visible and invisible differences of their employees, customers and wider society, which can only be achieved by having a diversity representative in your leadership team dedicated to the cause.

Leila McKenzie-Delis, Founder & CEO of DIAL Global  (Diverse Inclusive Aspirational Leaders) thinks that hiring a Chief Diversity Officer is the best way to ensure a company’s diversity agenda is lead at the very top and that the CEO has active involvement in the goals, actions and budgets for a successful transformation. 

She continues: “A CDO guarantees that strategic goals, company policies, and laws surrounding DEI are indeed being followed and carried out. Employees, customers, investors, and suppliers are all demanding that companies get serious about DEI – and adding a Chief Diversity Officers to your leadership team is a critical step to success.”

At iWorkinSport , we support a new international group of leading sports business professionals called Diversity in the Business ofSport (DiBS, for short), which was created with one simple aim: To increase diversity amongst professionals working in the sports business industry.

We asked DiBS founder Alex Norman if he thinks the sports industry is finally taking 'inclusion' and 'diversity' more seriously, he says: “It is great to see sports businesses taking concrete steps on diversity and inclusion, whether it is through more businesses appointing Diversity and Inclusion executives (or similar), or through putting in place other schemes and processes within their businesses. That said, it's important to remember that hiring people into D&I roles is only one part of the equation.

“Diversity and inclusion has to permeate every area of the business to be truly meaningful and the people in those roles have to be given real power to effect change. We're fortunate to be living through a period when diversity and inclusion is firmly on the agenda, but the real challenge for all businesses (in sport and outside it) is to translate goodwill and good intentions into firm, tangible actions that make long-lasting differences,” he emphasizes.

The problem remains though that, in many areas, sports business still happens not to be very diverse. The real challenge is, therefore, perhaps more to do with inertia.

Norman adds: “In saying this I mean that being well intentioned and open to diversity and inclusion in the workplace isn't the same as actively putting in place measures to promote it. In my opinion, that is the biggest challenge for most sports businesses; putting in place concrete structures to put all that goodwill into practice to make a lasting long-term difference.”

Fortunately, we are observing sports organisations being vocal against discrimination and for inclusion. By working together towards diversity and inclusion, the sports industry can cultivate real change. 

Taruka Srivastava is an Indian former Asian Games athlete (Soft Tennis) and a Communications consultant with over 10 years of experience in the sports industry. (@TarukaSrivastav)