In 2020, there are just seven female chief executives of FTSE 100 companies - barely outnumbering men called Peter. Meanwhile, according to Sport England data, girls are much less likely to take part in physical activity than boys. As girls get older, involvement in sport falls even further - with particular drop off points as they move to secondary school and hit the age of 14.
On first glance you could be forgiven for failing to draw a connection between those two facts, but the ‘Sport for Success’ research conducted by the organisation Women in Sport suggests exactly that. Women in senior positions of employment credit playing sport in their youth with developing skills to support a successful career.
‘Sport for Success’ found that women who played sport regularly were more likely to be in senior management position. Around 45pc of women who play sport are in management roles, whereas less than a third of women who don’t play sport are managers.
Competitive sport and the training required to perform at your best bring a unique pressure. To my mind, it is as close as the feeling I get when walking into an important meeting or giving a key speech. Before moving into my professional career, I played netball for England. So much of that experience now influences how I prepare for important moments, and how I deal with problems and issues that arise. I know that I am where I am because of what sport gave me.
At Chance to Shine, through our partnership with England and Wales Cricket Board, providing equal access to the game of cricket has been a fundamental part of the work we have done for the last 15 years. We’re immensely proud of the fact that of the five million children we have helped to play cricket, nearly half are girls. In 2019, we built a Secondary School Girls Programme that aims to support teenage girls to play cricket and, specifically, to develop their leadership skills.
The young leaders were trained to deliver cricket coaching sessions and were then supported to set up after-school or lunchtime clubs for girls in younger year groups to come along.
The leaders had to market their clubs, Some opted for traditional posters, while others tried a first foray into digital marketing, using Snapchat. The idea was to give them real ownership of the clubs and doing that was a real learning curve for us. The girls got passionate about what they were doing because they had control of it and could shape it.
Support from NatWest allowed us to commission an independent assessment of the programme, conducted by the Centre for Sport, Physical Education & Activity Research (Spear) at Canterbury Christ Church University.
The research showed that the percentage of girls who identified with key leadership traits grew as a result. Those who felt confident rose from 39pc to 45pc, resilience from 50pc to 57pc, creativity from 31pc to 39pc and adaptability from 44pc to 56pc.
These traits are as applicable on the cricket pitch as they are in the boardroom. Asking these girls to stand up in front of their classmates and lead cricket sessions was a rare chance for them to take on increased individual responsibilities that reflect what it is like to take charge in a work setting.
Many of the schools we approached were so keen to take part in the programme because they recognised the value for their pupils. Our research shows that the girls wanted these opportunities and it motivated them during their training. They relished this chance to lead, and they wanted to have a positive impact on their peers.
It was also incredibly promising that the girls said they understood how the sport was helping them. To really change behaviours, you have to change mindset. The fact that the girls could appreciate why playing cricket was valuable will hopefully help them to build a positive and long-lasting relationship with sport.
We were looking forward to building on the insight we gained in this summer’s programme. However, like everyone else across the world, Covid-19 has disrupted our best laid plans.
We have had to cancel this year’s programme but we are working hard to come back in the new school year. We know the demand in schools is high and we know how valuable the experience is for the girls we work with.
What we have learnt will be valuable for Chance to Shine. We hope it can be of use for other organisations that are seeking to use sport to help girls develop into women who just might take the helm of a FTSE 100 company one day.
Laura Cordingley is chief executive of cricket charity Chance to Shine.