If you always do what you’ve always done….

This time last year I was data collecting for a UEFA funded project looking into the role men can play in facilitating gender equity in football leadership. Having travelled across Europe and conducted numerous interviews with men and women in decision making positions and having spent hours analysing the data, I have the answer. I know why women are invisible in football, I know how to level the playing field, I know how to make football an equitable place to work.

I’ve spent decades telling organisations that there isn’t a magic matrix type pill that we can take to make inequality better but you know what I was wrong! Equality isn’t a mind-blowing puzzle that us mere mortals are incapable of solving. It’s really quite simple, it’s just that we choose to over complicate it. And I for one am done with over complication. I’m impatient and I want to solve this issue so we can move on to the next one, because let’s face it there’s a long line of them.

So here it is my friends….here’s the answer to the million dollar question of how can we make football (but you can insert any other industry / sector into this space in the sentence) equitable…..

We simply have to make equitable choices. Don’t role your eyes at me, I told you it was simple and it is. Whatever decision you make next today ask yourself ‘have I considered all my options?’, ‘is this fare?’ and just for good measure don’t forget to consider ‘when I make this decision am I only thinking about white, straight, able-bodied men?’

So just to summaries, before you make any decision today, be that what you are choosing to wear, what you are ordering for lunch, who you invite to the meeting, who you short list for the next promotion….ask yourself these three questions.

Inequality is the culmination of 100 decisions made over 100s of years. Decisions that in football for example lead to women being banned from even playing the sport, or from spectating the sport. At some point, somewhere, someone, decided that the World Cup for men didn’t need a gendered label but the women’s did (for the mens game we just say the FIFA World Cup but we need to let you know when the women are playing Women’s World Cup, just incase you are expecting the ‘real’ thing!). Someone decided that the league trophy for women should be half the size of the mens. Someone decided that the women who played for their national side didn’t deserve to have their own shirts with their names on. Someone decided that the version of the game played by men was worth investing in. Someone decided that the coach education material should only include male players. Someone decided not to invest in the science behind women’s physiology and sport science research. Someone decided that new board members should receive a gift bag with aftershave because who could imagine a woman board member.

Whilst it isn’t the same someone who made each of these decisions, in each of these cases that someone was a man. And whilst some of these decisions were made 100s of years ago, some were made yesterday.

Men have been making the decisions about football since football was invented. And of course those decisions were made in the best interest of…….men! The result of these 100s of decisions made over 100s of years is that the playing field is unquestionably tipped in the favour of men. So if we want to level the playing field we have to start making a concerted effort to tip it back the other way – we have to start making different decisions.

You see it really isn’t that difficult. Maybe I should go a step further and simply say whatever decision you are about to make don’t! Henry Ford once said “If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done, You’ll Always Get What You’ve Always Got.”

By understanding your lived experience, I can help you work out the solution to your problem.


As a qualitative researcher I solve problems by understanding how an individual or a company brings that problem to life. Let me give you an example.

A good friend of mine, Daniel, works for a large HR company. At the start of this year his company was launching a new initiative focussed on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). Daniel is a very likeable family guy, I’ve never seen him in a work environment but I’m sure he’s very capable at his job. He’s got a good sense of humour, a team player…he’s not the guy that will make the sexist or racist comment but he’s the guy that may (shyly) laugh along. Daniel reached out to me because he had a problem. As part of the D&I launch his company had asked all employees to complete the following sentence:

“I’m committed to inclusion because………..”

Daniels problem was he didn’t have an answer. Why? Because he wasn’t ‘committed to inclusion’, he simply was included. Through no fault of his own, he is the default square peg in the square hole. I’ve already told you that Daniel has a good sense of humour, so not only did he want me to give him the ending of the sentence, he also wanted it to be funny! I suggested “I’m committed to inclusion because…

as a straight white able bodied guy, I know I don’t have all the answers!

In my experience a lot of organisations take Daniels approach to D&I initiatives – tell me the answer (without understanding the problem). And whilst I am more than capable of doing that, the answer I give you won’t change anything unless it resinates with you, the individual or company. Issues relating to a lack of diversity are simply the symptoms. The problem will always be rooted in the organisational culture.


Not surprisingly Daniel didn’t like my first answer enough to submit it as part of the pre workshop launch of his companies inclusion initiative, although he thought I ticked the funny request. So then I presented him with the business case for inclusion. I explained to Daniel that according to CNN Money, in the U.S. the millennial and Gen Z generations are the most diverse in history: only 56% of the 87 million millennials in the U.S. are white, as compared to 72% of the 76 million members of the baby boomer generation. The U.S. population, and therefore the nation’s workforce, is becoming increasingly diverse.

In the 40 years between 1980 and 2020, the white working-age population will have declined from 83% of the nation’s total to 63% while the number of minority workers will have doubled. This means that organisations cannot simply fill up their workforce with ‘Daniels’ forever. The next generation of employees are not as complacent about the subject of D&I. They’re not looking for the smart answer that Daniel wanted to find, they want the authentic answer. According to a survey done by Glassdoor, a diverse workplace is one of the main factors potential employees take into account when considering a job. A diverse workplace was of paramount importance to minority job seekers: 72% of women (v. 62% of men), 89% of African Americans, 80% of Asians, and 70% of Latinos ranked workforce diversity as important in their job search. But this isn’t a them and us argument. According to Glassdoor’s research the next generation of Daniels employees and clients also believe a diverse workplace is important when considering where to work. This means that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is central to attracting talented employees, and to setting your company up for success.

So we tried out the following sentence: I’m committed to inclusion because…

it’s no longer a nice to have add on, creating an inclusive organisational culture is a need to have.

For Daniel this made it to the short list.  It was an okay answer for him but still not something that resinated with him. Until he experienced difficulties in attracting talent, this scenario was still too abstract for him. He wasn’t living this version of exclusion. So then I went for the personal approach.

I asked if he thought his daughter should have the same experiences and opportunities in life as his son?  “of course” he said.  “But you do know if they both started work tomorrow doing the same job for the same company, your daughter will end up being paid less”? Daniel was now engaging with the topic on a personal level. He may not have experienced discrimination himself but now the subject was landing closer to home. This was a version of the problem he could at least imagine living through. 


A few days later Daniel proudly sent me an image of himself smiling next to a poster that hung in his companies foray. On the poster was a picture of Daniel and the following quote

“I’m committed to inclusion because I believe my daughter should have the same opportunities as my son.” 

Daniel couldn’t work through the problem of inclusion because he hadn’t lived that problem. But that switched when he learnt how close to home the problem really was. Truly understanding a lived experience is the only way we can change our experience of work.

Hi I’m Donna….

I’m a 40 something year old Brit, married to a Dutch guy who I met on holiday 100 years ago, a real life Love Island success story. We live in Holland with our three children, two boys and a girl, all under the age of 10. Oh and we have a cat called Buddy who I’m allergic to but love nonetheless.

I have a BSc first class honours degree and an MBA. I completed my PhD whilst working full time, moving countries and having three children. I was having rather strong Braxton Hicks during my viva and travelled to another country to attend my graduation ceremony with a 6 week old baby (thank heavens for the large black gown!).

I’ve worked hard to create a successful career in academia. I have a theoretical grounding in both sociology and business and my area of expertise is equality. I believe my daughter should have the same experience in life as her brothers. But I am acutely aware that the systems that surround us all do not facilitate equality. My children will experience schooling systems and sporting spaces and work environments that will not treat them as equals and this is something I want to change.

I facilitate change through working with these systems. Through a simple framework of Live it – Learn it – Work it, I conduct qualitative research to understand our lived experiences of these systems, so we can learn how to evolve and create cultures that work.

I blog because as a qualitative researcher I know that words matter. And because I know not everyone reads the academic journal articles or book chapters I write, so this is another way of sharing my work and hopefully creating impact. I’ll be blogging about anything and everything to do with equality. In October I’m launching my Live it. Learn it. Work it. podcast. So please get in touch if equality is something you’re interested in, if you have stories to share or topics you would like me to include. I’m new to blogging and podcasting so please be gentle with me! I’ll make mistakes and hopefully improve and inevitably f-up along the way but that’s life right, and life is for living, learning and working things out.