Low press coverage, low levels of financial support, low levels of sponsorship, and a lack of support. These are some of the elements that make up a vicious cycle of issues facing women’s sport. This week saw the launch of Women Ahead, a flagship mentoring program that seeks to address some of these issues.
With the strapline ‘Sport benefits women. Women benefit business. We connect the dots’ the program will connect female professional athletes and women in leadership roles in the sporting world with mentors from the world of business.
The launch took place at Google UK’s London headquarters, with a keynote address by Home Secretary the Right Honorable Theresa May, who commented on the importance of equality within sport.
‘Equality of opportunity is important, because everyone has talent,’ stated May, ‘and we need to let people develop these talents for the good of themselves and society. If you sideline 50% of the population, you are missing out on a huge amount of talent.’
A panel discussion led by Georgie Thompson, sports presenter on Fox Sports and BBC Radio 5 Live featured Olympic Gold medalist and World Champion cyclist Victoria Pendleton. Joining her was Helen Morrissey CBE, CEO of Newton Investment Management and the founder of the 30% club, which seeks to ensure women make up 30% of FTSE-100 company boards by 2015.
Also on the discussion panel were Ruth Holdaway, CEO of the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, and Professor David Clutterbuck, an expert on mentoring.
The discussion covered the issues of inequality, lack of support and mentorship, and the importance of role models in inspiring women and girls to get into sport.
With only 0.4% of UK sports sponsorship invested in women’s sport, fewer events for female athletes and less than 7% of all sports media coverage focusing on women’s sport, Women Ahead aims to initiate real change by empowering the women in sport themselves.
Women Ahead was founded by Liz Dimmock, an experienced professional in the fields of coaching and mentoring, and a passionate cyclist who in 2012 cycled the entire 3,479km route Tour de France route, stage-for-stage, one week before the race itself.
“Business leaders have significant experience and skills that can be shared with women in sport, whether they’re working towards a leadership role or a podium position. In parallel, women in sport hold the power to inspire and challenge leaders in business. There has been a lot of talk in this space, but surprisingly little action, and by introducing structured mentoring we can effect genuine change at an individual, organisational and societal level.
I also believe we can help elevate the profile of women in sport, to challenge unconscious bias within organisation, and to showcase inspirational role-models to girls and women with the goal of raising levels of participation around the world.”
We’ve talked about the issues facing women’s cycling, but similar issues are present across the spectrum of women’s sport, from football to rowing to rugby and beyond. Breaking the vicious circle of funding, coverage and sponsorship means increasing both financial and organisational support, and increasing opportunities not only for women to progress within sport, but also within sports governing bodies. We feel programs such as Women Ahead could prove to have a pivotal effect and help produce real change.
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