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Ready to Board explained: why FIFPRO prepares women for leadership roles

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FIFPRO General manager Britta Sluis and Global Policy Advisor Sarah Gregorius share their insights about how the world player union is preparing ambitious women for a leadership role within FIFPRO and football in general.

Together with Women in Football, FIFPRO recently launched the Ready to Board programme to prepare 12 women for executive roles.

Both Britta and Sarah experienced that football’s meeting rooms can be challenging for women. Before starting at FIFPRO two years ago, Britta had already spent hours in regular meeting rooms during non-football jobs. “The people in those rooms were some sort of equal representation of the population, but when I first visited a FIFPRO meeting, I was very surprised. I counted eighty men and noticed only a handful of women, including me.”

Football governance still is dominated by men and FIFPRO knows that a change doesn’t happen spontaneously. That’s why the world players union is taking affirmative action to create change.

Britta: “If you as a woman enter a room with almost exclusively men sitting there, then it is harder for you as an individual to come in and speak out.”

As a policy advisor, former New Zealand player Sarah was in various meetings, which she often found challenging. “Sometimes it is depressing to go into these spaces and not seeing allies, someone who has shared your experiences. At times, it is very intimidating to be in these rooms and to speak or give your opinion between men who look very comfortable surrounded by people who look like them. Sometimes my heart is pounding just before these moments I should speak. I can get nervous, even more nervous than I would be before taking a penalty kick with New Zealand. And I am a confident person...”

Scientific studies show the need for diversity and inclusion in board rooms. Sarah referred to the 30 percent threshold for a underrepresented minority group to actually have real influence in the decision making and the culture of the board room. That is why an overwhelming majority of the FIFPRO General Assembly recently voted to change the statutes and introduce a minimum representation of one-third for each gender in the FIFPRO global board.

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Britta Sluis, FIFPRO General Manager

FIFPRO first welcomed women board members in 2017, but the introduction needed time and a change in culture, Britta noticed. “Initially, the female members got the opportunity to talk when the board was discussing women’s football, but when for example the transfer regulations were being discussed, it was harder for the women to speak or get the floor. For these kind of situations, we need to provide everyone with the skills to ensure their voice is heard and respected, and we need to prepare the board to accept women’s expertise across all areas of governance.“

The Ready to Board programme includes a leadership course, group coaching and mentoring by women with experience aplenty in football governance. But it isn’t about skills and knowledge only. It is about giving women the confidence that they belong in a board room. That they are fully accepted and appreciated for their qualities. “I am convinced that if we are able to give women the right tools and the confidence, that we will give them a much better starting position,” Britta said.

There are 12 spots available and women who are interested can apply until 15 March. “In general, women are modest. Sometimes they don’t come forward, because they don’t recognise the potential within themselves.”

“I am really convinced that diversity leads to new perspectives and new ideas and that is welcome in the world of football. I would like to encourage women to accept the challenge and participate.”

“Come in and help us change the landscape of football governance,” Sarah added, who is hoping to welcome female players. “This will give them the opportunity to improve the conditions that they experienced while they were playing.”

Top photo: Sarah Gregorius (middle) during a policy meeting with French player union lawyer Camille Delzant (left) and New Zealand player Emma Kete (right)

If you are interested in joining our Ready to Board programme, please let us know: [email protected]. The deadline for applications is March 15.