Diversity roadmap - Former Fifa ExCo member Moya Dodd: ‘Sometimes quotas are the only way’

Moya Dodd, former Australian national women’s team soccer player and current member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) discusses the reality of diversity quotas within the sports industry, the need to challenge discrimination, and the importance of role models if sport is to enact sustainable change.

Diversity roadmap - Former Fifa ExCo member Moya Dodd: ‘Sometimes quotas are the only way’

Moya Dodd

Today, as in decades past, leadership and management positions across sport continue to be dominated by a homogenous elite of white, middle-aged, able-bodied men, perpetuating inequalities within the industry, and affecting the ways in which it is experienced by different participant groups.

Gender discrimination is one of the exclusionary phenomena that continues to serve as a barrier to the progress of equality off the field. Indeed, according to a recent report by charity Women in Sport, 40 per cent of women working in the sports industry say they experience discrimination because of their sex.

The study concludes that progress on bringing more women into leadership roles has stalled: just under half of the national governing bodies of sport in England fail to achieve the governance requirement of having a board in which women represent at least 30 per cent.

Former Australian national women’s soccer player, Moya Dodd, reflects on sport’s progress, in terms of diversity and inclusion, over the last decade. The 53-year-old lawyer who has served as a Fifa executive committee member, and is currently a member of the Asia Football Confederation (AFC), discusses the strategies needed to enact meaningful and sustainable change throughout the industry.

How have you seen the climate for playing, watching and officiating sport changed in terms of inclusivity and diversity over the last ten years?

I think we've seen a growing recognition that sport, despite its equality ideals, is actually not so inclusive at the senior decision-making level, and that this issue of can't be just waved away. There has been some progress in the boardrooms (especially where quotas are imposed), in participation numbers, in the number of national leagues, and in management roles. However, it's obvious that women's football is a game played by women, but overwhelmingly run by men (including as coaches), and there has been little shift in that overall status globally.

That said, there is a growing pile of examples of women who are given opportunities and succeeding quite spectacularly. Women coaches - under-represented at every level - keep winning a vastly disproportional number of major tournaments. Since 2000, every World Cup, Olympics, and Euros - bar one - has been won by a female-coached team.  Yet views persist that male coaches are the safe, competent choice and they continue to take the majority of jobs at senior international level.

Crowd attendances increasingly demonstrate that the women's game is truly great to watch.  Mexico's women’s league final had 51,211 watching. In England, 45,423 watched the FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Chelsea.  That's to be celebrated.

There are a lot of indicators that are moving in the right direction, but the overarching power structures haven't really broadened beyond their narrow base. However, the calls for change are getting louder and more insistent. You can't help but notice the impact of collective voices across many industries calling for diversity and inclusion. These are organic movements, and the established powers have to respond.

The women's FA Cup this year drew a record competition crowd at Wembley, when Chelsea Ladies beat Arsenal Women 3-1 ​

What ongoing challenges do you believe still need to be addressed in terms of diversity and inclusion?

The most fundamental issue is unconscious bias.  That keeps women and minorities out of both participation and leadership roles in ways that those who exclude them simply don't recognise.

For example, there are many studies showing that women are judged differently to men.  I've sat in committee rooms where a discussion of "merit" becomes a discussion about all the faults of the women, as if there is something wrong with them all. Sometimes this amounts to character assassination.  I've never heard a discussion like that about male candidates for a job.

We all - women included - have unconscious biases, whether they be about gender, age, ethnicity, body shape or age. The challenge for us all is to recognise them, and consciously address them so that we don't prejudge in ways that are fundamentally unfair.

What are the ways in which these challenges can be addressed, in your opinion?

There are a host of ways to break down biases which include unconscious bias training, so that people recognise that they do have such biases, calling out bias when you see it, especially if you are not the victim of that bias. This task cannot be left to the victims.

We need gender-blind job application processes, at least for initial assessments, and things like the Rooney Rule are good. We need to nurture role models and make them visible until their presence is ‘normalised’, and direct challenges to discriminatory conduct through formal complaints or lawsuits. We also need reporting requirements such as audits of female or minority participation and certification mechanisms of "gender-fair" organisations.

What do you see as some of the success stories of the last couple of years within the sports industry, in terms of growing diversity and inclusion?

There are many! Some are institutional, such as when Fifa passed statutory reforms which added the development of women's football, and the inclusion of women at all levels of football governance, into its statutory objectives.  It also requires member federations to constitute their legislative bodies with regard to the importance of gender equality -- which once fully implemented should mean no more all-male congresses or executive committees in any confederation or member federation, anywhere on the planet.

Others are individual, for example Rimla Akhtar [sports administrator, who champions inclusivity in sport and was the first person who publicly identified themselves as an Asian, Muslim woman on the Football Association Council] and Vivienne Aiyela [non-executive director of the London Football Association] are strong, articulate role models and pioneers. Industry growth is also improving inclusion, like growth in grassroots to have a broader and more diverse base, and growth in the elite women's game which is finally offering career paths to women.

Jillian Ellis, coach of the United States women's national soccer team, which is the most successful in international women's soccer

How do you believe a lack of diversity at boardroom and leadership level affects how organisations within sport operate?

No doubt that decisions are better when made by a diverse group. It's true in the corporate world, and no doubt true in sports as well. It's being called out more often - even a room full of the same kind of terrific people will make poorer decisions than diverse groups. 

How do you stand on quotas for leadership roles and ideas like the Rooney Rule- do you see them as good or bad, necessary or unhelpful?

Quotas are not as good as a well-functioning merits system.  But sometimes, they are the only way to create diversity in any meaningful timeframe.  In football, I doubt any woman would be in the governing boards at international level but for the quotas.  I was a quota in Fifa, and I am one in AFC.

However, when quota positions are created, it's important to look at how the selection is done.  The quota position should be selected by the people who they are to represent. Currently that's a weakness in the Fifa voting system— around one per cent of voting presidents globally are female.  That means that the women elected to Fifa are elected almost entirely by men.  We need to pay more attention to ensure that women can actually vote.

How can the narratives told by brands and the media work to further inclusion?

Language matters. Sharing success matters. Not qualifying that success by constantly reminding us that it was a woman also matters.

Celebrating effort and progress matters. Women's participation should be normalised, and covered accordingly.

How do you think sport can showcase the benefits of diversity?

Sport is the United Nations for ordinary people.  I love that you play on a team with all kinds of people, bound in a common cause, and our differences diminish.

At the same time, a team of clones doesn't do well.  You can't play with 11 full-backs, or 11 centre-forwards.  You need different kinds of players, for different positions, to build the strongest teams.  That lesson is demonstrated in every suburban park, every weekend.