Women In Sport Thought Leadership Panel

Women In Sport Thought Leadership Panel


Uma Cresswell, Senior Independent Director, EFL Trust

Jenny Morris, Director, City Football Leadership Institute

Sarah Lewis, OBE OLY, Global Sports Leader

Brigit Lee, Founding Advisory Board Member, Mercury 13



For generations, women hoping to break into the business of sport were faced with a stark challenge.


“If you can’t see it,” said Uma Cresswell, senior independent director at the EFL Trust, “go and be it.”


The Women In Sport Thought Leadership panel on day one of ISC 2024 was able to champion those trailblazers who have already helped transform sport in recent years. Yet as in other industries like finance, where Cresswell earned her early experience, or the media, much of that representation has come in a more limited range of functions, like marketing and HR. There is a continued shortfall of female influence in leadership positions.


In other words, the work of reshaping sport to drive greater gender parity has only just begun. There are many paths to greater diversification. For Jenny Morris, a director at the City Football Leadership Institute, education is a vital tool – both in terms of preparing women for roles in sport, and in helping to demystify the sector and underline just how many different types of careers are available.


The panel also agreed on the value of allyship. As Brigit Lee, a founding advisory member of women’s sport investment vehicle Mercury 13, put it: “Allyship is a tool that can fight systemic misogyny.” She outlined the importance of giving men in the sports industry the confidence to speak out on behalf of women – not least when there are no women in the room – and changing expectations that way.


That allyship can take other forms, including mentorships and reverse mentorships that can offer support and new perspectives to women at different stages of their professional journeys. Reflecting on her difficult run for the presidency of the International Ski Federation (FIS) – where her predecessor oversaw a spoiling campaign and removed her with dubious pretext from her long-held role as general secretary – Sarah Lewis talked up the importance of being generous with networks and access to opportunities to younger women.


In that spirit, the panel celebrated how the advancement of women was no longer seen as a zero-sum game. They also agreed that quotas can be useful in the right context – particularly for breaking open male-dominated working cultures – but that careful targeting of qualified candidates was key to making that process work.


What is really changing the industry, and changing attitudes, is the explosive growth of women’s sport as a commercial proposition. That, Lee explained, is encouraging people to look beyond the conventional male sports model and discarding old assumptions – like the idea that the audience is primarily male, rather than mixed.


As Lewis added, sponsors can find new routes to their target audiences once they open their minds to the possibilities and realities of a more diverse fanbase. Rights holders, meanwhile, can feed that change in perceptions further through subtle shifts in presentation, such as having women’s races as the finale in athletics meetings, rather than men’s.


Greater parity will deliver societal benefits, too, both professionally and at the grassroots. Morris pointed to a Youth Sports Trust study into Generation Alpha – those born between around 2010 and 2025. This will be the most technologically savvy generation in modern history, preparing for workplaces that will be evolving faster than ever before.


However, their digital-first lives carry the risk of more limited social development. Sport can be a remedy for that, with participation allowing girls and boys to acquire the soft skills they will need for a happier, healthier future.


It will all take a collective effort, with men and women building a better sports community together. “If you want to go fast,” said Cresswell, “go alone. If you want to go far, take others with you.”