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Stephen  Bevan

Making diversity a mainstream issue in football – a game of two halves?

Authors: Stephen Bevan Stephen Bevan

17 July 2013

We live in a diverse society and it makes sense that the places where we work – including professional football clubs - should try to reflect some of that diversity. This is, of course, easier said than done – especially if it means changing the culture of the organisation. As we know, some cultures are very hard to change, especially when it means asking people to move outside their comfort zones. I think it was Niccolo Machiavelli (a Fiorentina stalwart, I understand) who said:

"there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm (indifferent, uninterested) defenders in those who may do well under the new. "

Wise words indeed from the normally tight-lipped midfield general who usually let his feet do the talking. So how do we persuade football clubs – most of which are small, community-based small firms – to embrace the principles of diversity and to see the benefits of doing so?

First, the profile of the UK workforce is changing. Already, only 20 per cent of UK workers is a white, able-bodied man, under 45 years old and in full-time work. Employers limiting themselves to a narrow ‘pool’ of labour are limiting themselves enormously and, of course, the customer base they are seeking to serve (and generate revenue from) is also getting more diverse.

Second, customers seem to value workforce diversity – perhaps feeling more comfortable buying from a business whose staff come from diverse backgrounds. In a recent survey, for example, 56 per cent of customers said they would be more likely to use a business they knew to have a diverse workforce.

Third, those businesses which have embraced workforce diversity argue that doing so has contributed a number of other benefits which have enhanced their competitiveness and ‘brand’. These include attracting and keeping staff, enhancing creativity & innovation, higher morale & motivation, better teamworking and increasing attractiveness to business investors.

Despite these advantages, too many businesses remain unconvinced or just can’t find the energy to attach sufficient priority to what many still regard as a marginal issue. Overall, there seem to be three kinds of response from businesses:

The Amateur

These organisations emphasise the regulatory aspects of diversity ie. the need to avoid discrimination and to abide by the law. These organisations are unlikely to have a strategy for meeting this overall approach and hence are unlikely to have clear views on what they are trying to achieve or how it might go about it. For many, the main concern is to avoid falling foul of the law – in itself not an especially compelling argument, but one worth pondering just for a moment. The latest figures for employment tribunal costs show that 16 per cent of claims related to sex, race or disability and 18 per cent to equal pay. Losing an employment tribunal can be a costly business for employers:

  • Race discrimination -average pay-out was £10,052, maximum pay-out was £123,898

  • Sex discrimination –average pay-out was £15,059, maximum pay-out was £138,648

  • Disability discrimination –average pay-out was £15,059, maximum was £138,658

  • Age discrimination –average pay-out was £30, 289 and highest pay-out given was £144, 100

Of course mitigating the risk of a tribunal is not a diversity strategy. Modern employers should go well beyond the ‘compliance’ argument.

The Semi-Professional

These organisations are beginning to face growing pressures on diversity, through the demands of their customer base or the demands of the workforce. They will be interested in embracing diversity as a positive concept and will recognise that the organisation needs to change. The philosophy on diversity will recognise this proactive approach and the organisation will have a clear action plan and a number of initiatives that relate to it. Such initiatives will relate together in a coherent way. Diversity training, for example, will be delivered to different groups with slightly different content ie. managers may receive different training to staff.

The Seasoned Professional

These organisations have a clear and articulated philosophy on diversity which stresses the desire to change the culture of the organisation and recognises that this needs to happen through significant effort and result in a different organisation with different standards and practices. This philosophy is reflected in a strategy that lays out how the organisation will achieve change, the kinds of policies and processes it will adopt and what it expects to see as different. The organisation will have a number of initiatives that are fully integrated, ie. they are designed to create the same behaviour change and to support each other in achieving that. Diversity training will be tailored to the needs of different staff groups with clear aims and objectives and clear attempts to move beyond awareness rising. There are multiple interventions building a growing knowledge and skill base. The organisation will regularly monitor the impact of its diversity initiatives to help understand what has been successful and what needs to be done differently.

Ultimately, the aim is to get workforce diversity into the mainstream of how businesses – and professional football clubs especially – do business. Football is not the only sector where there is currently a high density of diversity 'amateurs' at the moment. While awareness is growing, the game needs the equivalent of a motivating half-time team talk to focus itself more resolutely on bringing about change. With persistence and with examples of innovative and effective good practice, we should be optimistic that more and more clubs will see that workforce diversity makes great business sense. 



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