From the Touchline: How to Increase Diversity on the Touchline

From the Touchline

Two weeks ago, I wrote about two interesting statistics about football managers. First was the large number of unemployed one-time managers and how hard it was to get rehired once you were sacked. The second was the dearth of opportunities in the U.S. for women managers, even in the women’s professional league. The common thread is that the managerial profession is a closed circle, which is hard to break if you fall out of it and even harder to crack if you are a woman.

This week we will try and address the issue of how to increase diversity in the professional managerial ranks. First let’s dismiss an idea adopted by some American sports, especially the NFL. The American football league has what’s known as “The Rooney Rule”. Teams looking to hire a new head coach are required to interview at least one minority candidate; the aim of the rule is to give minority coaches experience interviewing who might not get it otherwise. While the league this upcoming season will have a record number of minority head coaches, the rule has been exploited and abused by some teams who will call in the same candidates just to check a box.

Instead of just interviewing candidates, footballing associations and clubs need to actually invest in the development of women, first-time, and other underrepresented coaches. The best way to do this is to bring more of these kinds of candidates into the club structure and not only prepare them to be a manager for multiple years and clubs, but make them a constant presence that many of these repeat managers are. One step would be to increase the number of mentor-ship and training programs available to out-of-work coaches. The English FA has a coach mentor programme that can help, but clubs themselves should be more open to bringing on these coaches.

Consider, for example, Kevin Dillon, formerly of Aldershot Town. Dillon had spent years in various positions with different clubs in the FA before getting his first, and to date only, managerial position. Imagine allowing him to serve a financially supported mentor-ship with a Championship club that could allow him to collaborate and learn from another manager, not as an assistant but almost as a consultant. It is hard to imagine clubs and employed managers allowing someone to come in and study/criticise them on a daily basis, but for the good of the sport and candidates it is not a terrible idea.

Another idea that would apply especially to female future managers is to expand the total number of women in a club. In a Harvard Business Review article on increasing the number of women CEOs, author Rebecca Shambaugh points out corporations tend to fill Board vacancies with CEOs. Since most CEOs are men, that means Boards are mostly men, and tend to hire men like them when the top staff position comes available. This happens in football – of the 61 Boards seats total in Australia’s top football league, only three are filled by women; and Australia is generally considered a progressive country on gender issues.

Shambaugh recommends that corporations look to other specialities to fill vacancies. Instead of picking another executive for a vacancy, she recommends selecting a finance expert or tech guru to diversify the Board. While clubs tend to have Board members based on financial considerations, the more they look outside the sport for employees and staff, the more diversity they bring to the club.

It will take a number of initiatives to diversity the managerial pool in top flight football, but the disruptive models are out there to be considered.