THE BLOG
11/05/2014 18:58 BST | Updated 11/07/2014 06:59 BST

Sport Needs More Women in Its Boardrooms

Every year, since 2009, the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation has published Trophy Women? our annual audit of leadership in sport's National Governing Bodies (NGBs).

WSFF's Vision is to transform sport for the benefit of every woman and girl in the UK - and this means transformation from the field of play to the Boardroom. We want to see women making decisions at the highest levels of sport. This is not a box ticking exercise.

Yes, more women on NGB Boards will better enable sport to speak to all women and girls in a way which allows them access to a world that many feel is exclusively inhabited by people with a 'y' chromosome, but it goes deeper. The evidence is clear, from the research and anecdotally, the more diverse the make-up of the Board, the better the decision making. And gender diversity is key.

On Friday, we launched our 2014 report: on the one hand, there is some encouraging news; on the other, sport is still not doing enough to promote women into leadership roles.

When I became CEO of WSFF in November last year, it wasn't only my first CEO role; it was also my first professional foray into the world of sport. My first 'proper' engagement after taking up my post came just three days in, as I headed off to the annual conference of the Sport & Recreation Alliance - armed with my research, 72 hours immersion in sport and a list of 'key people Ruth must meet'. Surrounded by the great and good of the sector, I instantly received affirmation as to why WSFF needs to exist. All around me stood a sea of men in grey suits, interspersed periodically by the occasional woman. Diversity, this was not.

What also struck me over the course of the conference was exactly how strong the commitment was from those in the room to counter this exact issue. Yes, the situation may be poor right now, but there is a very real desire from within to instigate change - and if I took one thing away with me from that first week in the job, the warm welcome and willingness to engage with WSFF's vision would be it.

Today's report shows that the statistics have barely changed in 5 years. Almost half of NGBs have less than a quarter of women on their Boards, a threshold that all publicly funded NGBs have been tasked to reach by 2017. In fact, research conducted by McKinsey in 2007 suggests that Boards require a 30% diversity rate to demonstrate sustained change, and at WSFF we are calling on sports to focus on this as the critical mass they should reach, if not exceed, by 2017.

Addressing this gender imbalance is a key element of WSFF's work. Publishing Trophy Women? is just one step in the process. Last year, we launched the Women's Sport Network to bring together women passionate about working in sport to provide them with access to key contacts and networks and to share best practice from inspirational female leaders, such as Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Baroness Martha Lane Fox, Jude Kelly and Debbie Jevans. We're also working with sports directly to help them reach out to women with exceptional leadership acumen and a passion for sport.

We understand this isn't a simple mission, but it's not happening in isolation either. Individuals like Sheryl Sandberg and organisations such as Women on Boards are working hard to change the dominant leadership mentality in the corporate world, while we will continue to lead the call for sport to open its doors to women and girls at every level, from the field of play to the boardroom.

By doing so, I hope that the next time a woman walks into her first conference as the CEO of a sport organisation, she won't be part of a minority, but an equally represented group.