As youths, we are expected to have our dreams and career paths lined up, but how can we dream when we have no relatable role models to aspire to? The media often paints a picture of stereotypical leaders with authoritative personalities, while ethnic and racial minorities are sidelined into less important, less visible roles. Now it’s time to change and actively raise the number of diverse leaders within our organisations.
Diverse representation creates a connection. It motivates younger generations to aspire to achieve great things and to overcome the challenges of limited opportunities or psychological barriers.
With the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the world is finally engaging in a dialogue to improve diversity across the board. Different fields and professions are expanding their inclusion criteria to include race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender, physical abilities, and other dimensions. There are merits of including diverse individuals, specifically in leadership positions, as they have the power to make crucial decisions that can establish a standard for organisations, industries, and even governments.
A career shaped by purpose to enhance equity and inclusion in sport
Sport has the ability to unite nations and communities. It promotes teamwork and collaboration, which is essential to success in all fields of our lives, so it is essential to have diversity at every level to normalize representation.
As a child, I belonged to an underrepresented community, and in the world of football I often faced racist remarks and prejudice, even as an eight-year-old youth. It affected my self-esteem and confidence. The obstacles I faced have given me a purpose and passion in my life. Now, I have the potential to affect the lives of others, who just like the eight-year-old me want to make their mark in sport. I have climbed the ranks to become a coach, and I’m currently serving as an Equality and Inclusion Coordinator at Fulham Football Club to improve knowledge and diversity practices in the football community by creating awareness of inclusion and equality issues. But in my role, I am only part of a larger movement.
The need to reset the bar for diversity in football
If we look at English football, only nine managers in the top flight have been Black. Tony Collins, the first Black manager in professional English football held his position from 1960-1967 and since then only a total of eight have followed.
The statistics are even less promising when we look at other positions such as refereeing, of which there has only been one minority ethnic referee – Uriah Rennie – in the Premier League since its conception in 1992. We can also look at English women’s football, where coaches and managers are predominantly male. In fact, the proportion of women coaches in football has fallen from around 40% in the early 2000s – when it wasn’t as popular – to 20% in 2021. These issues need to be addressed and we need to push for and increase in the number of diverse leaders to boost representation.
Taking action to address the challenge
The English Football Association has established a diversity code that requires 15% of executive appointments and 25% off new coaching appointments to be from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. The code also requires increased inclusion of women, with a 30% quota for executive appointments and 50% for coaching appointments at women’s football clubs. Perhaps it is too early to tell if the policy is effective, but it must be noted the conversation is now on the agenda and we will see an increase of diverse leadership across the board in football.
The tide is already turning
The good news is that things have started to move forward and the signs of change are becoming more apparent. Fans for Diversity chief Anwar Uddin became the first British South Asian ex-player in the FA Council’s history; the 39-year-old is Aldershot assistant boss and is the first British-Bangladeshi to play professionally in England. The news came three days into South Asian Heritage Month.
It is important to have diverse leaders who understand what it means to live as overlooked individuals, so they can provide their own unique insights and opinions to revolutionize societal prejudice and bring issues to a larger platform. Bringing in empathetic leaders who are open to sharing their journey can provide the next generation with role models to admire, while allowing them to aspire to overcome challenges and reach their full potential. Diverse leaders in positions of influence will generate increased interest of underrepresented communities in sports.