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Why should cricket clubs care about diversity?

Julian Pike, Partner at Farrer & Co
©Farrer & Co

Over the past few years, we have seen an explosion of interest in women’s sport, and women’s cricket has been no exception. The ICC Women’s World Cup in 2017, for example, broke records when global viewing hours grew by almost three times compared to 2013, reaching 180 million people worldwide. In the UK, the 2017 Women’s World Cup attracted more viewers than any other televised cricket that summer. We will hopefully see this engagement continue to snowball during the Women’s T20 World Cup this year, and with the 2021 World Cup.


Growing interest in the women’s game, and increasing female interest in cricket more generally, will be core to the sport’s commercial success and survival in the future, which is recognised by the England and Wales Cricket Board. The opportunities for sponsorship, merchandising and other forms of revenue are significant in the long-term, and the prospect of engaging a whole generation of young women with the sport is equally exciting. Another aspect of women in cricket that has received less attention, but is interlinked and as important, is diversity in the sport’s leadership.


Other sectors are already waking up to the fact that diversity is an effective way of boosting the chances of business success. However, the sports sector, cricket included, has arguably been slower to realise these benefits. This isn’t to say that progress hasn’t been made: an important step forward was the introduction of the Code for Sport Governance in the UK, which requires national governing bodies funded by Sport England to ensure their boards are at least 30% female. Our research into diversity in sports boards showed how effective the Code has been in improving diversity at board level: by the latter half of last year, 72% of NGBs had reached the 30% target. The ECB was one of them, with a third of its board made up of women.


When it comes to professional clubs, however, we found a strikingly different picture. Of course, the Code doesn’t apply to professional clubs, so the fact that their boards are less diverse isn’t surprising. What is shocking, however, is the extent of this gap: our research found that not a single county cricket club would meet the 30% target, and female representation was below a fifth on every club’s board. In fact, out of 193 board or committee positions in county cricket, only 19 were filled by women.


Clearly, cricket clubs are far from where they need to be in order to reap the benefits of more diverse boards. What exactly are these benefits, then, and why should we care about diversity at all? Put simply, more diverse businesses are more profitable than their homogenous counterparts, by on average some 10 to 15%. McKinsey’s Diversity Matters report is only one example of research proving this: it found that increased gender diversity at senior executive level also increased earnings, and the likes of Harvard Business School have consistently come to similar conclusions. Which county wouldn’t want to see double-digit growth on its balance sheet?


As well as financial growth being a reward, diverse boards are also less likely to make errors which, of course, typically have financial consequences. Rather than only hearing voices of reinforcement around the table, diverse boards bring diverse thinking and experiences, which lead to better decisions being made and therefore risks being avoided.


As well as the financial success on offer, there is also the participation issue. The ECB has a strategy to grow the women’s game, but this strategy stands a far greater chance of success if the counties are also signed up to the same plan. With the number of male players on a continuous decline, growth opportunities come from more girls and women taking up the sport.


Growing the women’s game will have a far greater chance of success when it has its boardroom champions.  It is also about setting the right culture, and culture is a top-down process. Without much better representation of 50% of the population, how can county boards really expect to grow the female game as much as they could and, arguably, should?


The knock-on effect is that the amateur game is then encouraged to run itself with more women on club committees, and to work to develop the female game. Having chaired a 400+ junior section, I know how hard it is to get women into the sport, but it is vital to do so if we are to get more girls playing. This should be viewed as a long-term project, since many female players will go on to be the mums of the next generation and can be role models and advocates for the game to their children.


Ultimately, although the figures from our research might seem disheartening at first, they reveal the huge opportunity that is open to the county game. The sport has traditionally been seen as the preserve of male dominance, but it needs to break out of this mould to reach its potential in the twenty-first century. This will require a multi-pronged approach that will of course include growing the women’s game, but this will require a look at the make-up of the sport’s leadership. More women on the county boards will not only lead to better financial performance and reduced risk, but will hopefully see the game being able to better leverage the success of its big tournaments, creating future participant growth and sustainability. What’s not to like about that?

By Julian Pike, Partner at Farrer & Co

©Cricket World 2020

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