On more than one occasion over the last six years, I have come across people who think I can't do my job. That's not because I am incompetent or lazy, my track record speaks for itself, but because I am a woman in a male-dominated industry. As CEO of Mansfield Town Football Club, my gender often means I have to work twice as hard to earn the respect of my colleagues, peers, players and the fans - hard to believe considering we're in the 21st century and we've been having this conversation for decades.
To a certain extent I can understand where this comes from. Football, like many sports, has been predominantly male for the last 100 years. But that has changed and it's time to get with the programme. Women's football is on the rise, both in terms of popularity and the amount of money being invested in it through advertising and sponsorship, but that progress is only really being made on the pitch. As one of only two female CEOs in football, I want to encourage more women into positions within the business and coaching side of the sport.
To put the lack of women in the sport into context, only one of the Football League's ten board members is female, Debbie Jevans, and as a former professional tennis player and Director of Sport for LOCOG, she is probably more qualified and experienced then any of her male counterparts to be in the role.
A report from Women in Sport in March this year revealed that the FA risked losing public funding because they do not employ enough women in senior roles. This is a step in the right direction, and should motivate FA board members to take action, however I am saddened that financial threats have to be made for something to change.
Another reason people doubt how competent I am is because I'm relatively young at 35, having been made CEO of Mansfield Town FC when I was just 29 I am still the youngest CEO in the game. The FA has come under some serious criticism recently that it's headed by old, white men, who are out of touch and aren't allowing football to evolve. There's absolutely no doubt that experience is important, but fresh blood is just as vital for good business practice, however the fear of change can be an overwhelming one. The news of the FA being overhauled has quietened down now, which has happened time and time again. There's a big outcry of a lack of diversity within football, a promise to change things and then silence until it becomes the topic du jour again. It's frustrating.
I absolutely love my job and have worked tirelessly since my appointment six years ago to turn Mansfield Town into the club it is today. We're favourites to win the league this upcoming season and on target to turn a profit this financial year - that latter achievement isn't something many football clubs in the Premier League can say, let alone in League Two. While I'm aware every occupation has its challenges and downsides, it can be a hard pill to swallow that two of my perceived negatives are having XX chromosomes and being under 40. I've come up against the argument that it's a case of supply - simply not enough women want to get into football, but I refuse to accept this. I can appreciate that there are more male fans of the sport, that's just hard facts, but the number of females who are interested in working in the industry is not reflected by the number of women it employs.
There has been a massive improvement in the last ten years in the number of females playing football and making a career of it. However, what I'd like to see is an increase in the number of females working in the commercial side of the business. It's a hugely rewarding area - you have to have a thick skin, be tenacious and strong, but from my experience that's what women who want these roles do best. I'm looking forward to a time where I walk into a boardroom and there are no double takes, and I can sit next to a mixture of both passionate men and women.
My first step to get the ball rolling is to set up a mentoring scheme for young women, where businesswomen such as myself can advise and guide young women and girls who want to excel within business, whatever the industry. There's a long road ahead of us but from my personal experience, it's definitely one worth taking.Suggest a correction