Kicking discrimination against women out of football


What’s it like to be a woman working in football?

Last year the organisation Women in Football did its first survey and uncovered high levels of sexism and discrimination.

Two thirds had experience of sexism in the workplace and a third of these had witnessed women being told they were unable to do their job because of their gender. Over a quarter felt they had been looked over for promotion because of their gender.

One said: “I experienced direct sexist and derogatory comments, and intimidation. I didn’t report it as I was scared, I was told I would never work in the game again.”

Another listed the kind of thing she had witnessed: “Women being talked over in meetings; being excluded from working groups or selection panels; having their qualifications and input trivialised.”

Women in Football was set up in 2007 as a network of professional women working in and around the football industry who support and champion their peers. It aims to celebrate women’s achievements, challenge discrimination and lobbying for change, share professional contacts, advice and expertise and offer mentoring opportunities to the next generation of women coming into the industry.

Part of the problem it faces in campaigning for women is a lack of data. According to Anna Kessel, co-founder of Women in Football and a sports journalist for The Guardian, there are no statistics on the number of women working in the football industry. “They have never looked at women,” says Anna. The football authorities have been promising to do a comprehensive audit of the industry, which is promised for next season so this may change. For now the Women in Football survey provides an important snapshot of what is happening and a follow-up survey is currently being planned.

Working mums

Asked about working mums in the football industry, Anna, who is herself a mum, says the network would like to know more about their experience. She suspects many women leave the industry after becoming mums, but adds that “it is difficult to capture the data” on this.

The survey seems to back this up. While it shows that of those who had witnessed sexism in the industry, a relatively small number – 7.85% – had seen instances of discrimination against working mothers in football, some 64% believed football was less accommodating of working mothers than other industries. Part of the issue, says Anna, is that working in football tends to mean long hours, mostly at anti-social times like the weekends or evenings and possibly a lot of travel.

She would like, however, to look at how employers can boost the number of working mums in football through changes to their work culture, such as offering flexible working. “I went to one premier league club where there was a female senior director and one third of people there were working flexibly, but this is quite unusual,” says Anna.

She feels there are grounds for optimism about the future with awareness about women in football growing. She says the higher profile and move from amateur to professional status of women’s football has meant women players can now have a career in the game. However, she adds that women and men’s football are still quite separate and that professionalism has not necessarily opened up options for women. “Women’s football is not the utopia some might think. As the game has become more professional more men are interested in it and often see it as a way into the men’s game,” she says.

Bringing women together

To support women in the industry, Women in Football organises monthly events that bring women together. “Women in the industry can be quite isolated,” says Anna. “They may be the only female member of the back room staff or in the office. It’s important to bring women together to share their experiences.” Events include talks by inspirational women, master classes on careers issues.

In addition, the network, which also provides informal mentoring, is working with chief stakeholders in the industry to raise the profile of women. Earlier this year around International Women’s Day, they kicked off the first campaign for gender equality in football. “It was interesting because it had never occurred to many people in the industry that gender equality should be on their radar,” says Anna.

Women in Football is planning an end of season report later this month on discrimination based on emails it gets via the ‘reporting a sexist incident’ tab on its website. In the past members have responded to such incidents on an informal basis, but recently they have begun formally logging complaints. This was after a recent report about discrimination showed only two out of hundreds of complaints received to the football authorities were about sexism.

“We were really shocked at how few there were when we know that there is a lot of discrimination going on,” says Anna. This includes everything from sexist comments and online abuse to sexual harassment and comments that women can’t do certain jobs. “We want to challenge that,” she adds.


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