REPORT AND WATCH – OFI Gender Equality in Sport – Focus on Governance

OFI Gender Equality in Sport online series – report on #3 focussed on Governance

IF the governance of sport is to become more diverse and balanced then sporting bodies must examine their power structures, identify what imbalances and barriers exist to joining them, and consult and communicate with all of their members to achieve change.

Both men and women must be involved if this process is to succeed, according to the speakers at the third session of the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s (OFI) online series on gender equality which focussed on governance.

At present 29% of the boards of Irish sporting organisations are female.

A quarter of sporting CEOs are female but just 12 are chairpersons and 44% of women on boards are in the role of honorary secretaries.

Speaking of her experience at International and European Olympic Committee level, OFI President said: “For it to succeed men and women must jointly address gender equality in governance and it must be endorsed by the very top level in any organisation – by its board.”

Sarah O’Shea, the OFI’s general secretary and owner of the SOS Sports Consultancy, said there are many variables to getting more women on boards and one is that they need to be asked or invited, as they are less likely than men to volunteer for boards.

She also pointed out that sports governance is unique because “board positions, traditionally, have been a reward for good volunteers. We need to move away from seeing board positions as a reward system.”

Professor Niamh Brennan of UCD’s Centre for Corporate Governance said that boards should “direct the organisation, oversee the management and provide wise counsel” and that, ultimately, good governance comes down to human behaviour.

“Women are seen as more risk adverse as men. That is why there is an appreciation of women in governance roles,” she explained, stressing that this does not mean being compliant but rather independent-minded and willing to take a stance.

She said her guiding principle for good governance is “if it is to be then it’s up to me. We must all take personal responsibility for moving this agenda (gender equality) forward.”

Dr Jennifer Cassidy, an expert on equality in global governance and diplomacy, said “demonising or criticising people who have no experience in this area “does not work. I’ve learned that this must be a collaborative environment, not a divisive or segregated one.”

Sarah O’Shea said that to make boards and governance more gender equal “some toes will be stepped on so it is really important to bring the board and membership with you. You must consult and communicate with all of your members throughout the process.”

For significant change to occur, at board level, constitutions and national governing body rules may have to be altered but organisations can start with initiatives like mentoring programmes or working groups on gender equality that should include both women and men.

“Our Olympic team should be the best we can be, whether that’s athletes, coaches or management,” Sarah Keane said.

“That means having the best people involved, regardless of their gender. To ensure that, we need to look at our governance and legislate for gender diversity in all of our sporting organisations.”

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