Women in Sports Grounds Safety

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, the four female Inspectors of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority give their views on the role of women in sport, and tips for women interested in working in sports grounds safety.

When the Football Licensing Authority, the predecessor to the SGSA, was set up in the early 1990s there were no female Inspectors.  It took until the appointment of Lou Elliston, in April 2002, for a woman to be appointed.  After that, it took another decade for a second female Inspector to be appointed.  Today four out of the 11 Inspectors are female.

Lou Elliston, as the first female Inspector appointed, did you face any challenges in the role when you started?

Lou: I can’t say that I did. In my previous career I was a woman police officer, but after three years  we were integrated and I went from working with other woman to being the only one on a unit of men working a 24 hour shift pattern.  That carried on throughout my police career and I was often the first or only woman on a unit. So it was completely normal to me to be working solely with male colleagues. The colleague who handed over to me took me to my clubs and introduced me, so I was well prepared for any challenges I was going to find there and the rest of my colleagues couldn’t have been more helpful.

How do you think the role of women in sport has changed over the years?

Lou Elliston: There were few women in key positions when I started, but that has changed tremendously and nowadays no one would be surprised to find a woman in any particular role. This is great news in what has traditionally been a male dominated area. There are still dinosaurs out there and there is always room for more.

Ann Ramage: I think that it has changed in a positive way with more women working in the industry but I would probably caveat that in my view it is at a fairly slow pace like many other areas/industries that face male dominance in the workforce profile.  In areas around sport such as the regulators, broadcasters, medical, women are now more visible but many clubs where I visit still appear to me to be very male top to bottom of the organisational roles.   I think what I would say is if you are good you are likely to succeed and there are safety officers and CEOs who are out there. They have either done well or have had some sort of lucky break!

Wendy Harnan-Kajzer: It has changed hugely. Although women are still in the minority, we are taken seriously at all levels now, and the numbers of women getting involved is increasing all the time.

Jill McCracken: I have worked in major events both as a police officer and in the private sector for about 20 years. I would say that in the early days, there were certainly fewer women in senior management roles but that has certainly changed. The enormous range of skills required to deliver world class events means that the Organising Committees and Governing Bodies need to bring a team with diverse and creative skill sets and as a result, I have seen a pretty equal split of men and women at all levels of event management and delivery in recent years.

Do you think sports grounds have become more welcoming to women?

Jill McCracken: Yes. The desire to encourage participation and growth in sports is something that I think all sports are aware of and I have seen some great examples of family friendly clubs that are really trying to improve the customer experience in general.  I have seen a couple that have even added in a gin bar!

Lou Elliston: When I first started I remember a ground where the toilet was a latrine at the back of the terrace, which was open to the sky. There was not a toilet for women. That is unthinkable now. The improvements to our grounds have been tremendous and I have watched the changes at football grounds such as Wembley, Arsenal, Leyton Orient, Colchester and more recently Tottenham, as well as Ascot Racecourse. There are positive steps to attract women to sports grounds, not only sufficient toilets, but the quality of refreshments on offer and the provision of entertainment outside of the sports events. It is generally a much friendlier and less intimidating atmosphere all round and the emphasis is on being helpful to their customers. At the Olympics, for example, we were entirely caught out by the number of people who arrived with buggies and quickly had to organise buggy stores. A bit chaotic for a day or two, but met the needs of customers.

Ann Ramage: Yes as a general answer but like many things it’s complex. There has been almost universally an acknowledgement that young support is crucial for economic resilience of sports grounds. So there are now in almost all sports grounds family areas and in here the gender mix is much more diverse with families being involved in sport, and a good representation of women. By contrast if you look at the away travelling support in football that is still quite predominantly male.

Wendy Harnan-Kajzer: Yes – they are much more welcoming and customer focused, and there is much less tolerance of poor behaviour. I have never felt unsafe or unwelcome at a sports ground, even though it can of course get quite lively at times!

What tips would you give women interested in working in sports grounds safety?

Wendy Harnan-Kajzer: I’d say don’t feel intimidated – be confident. Find a way to get involved that uses your skills and abilities and you will be welcomed. There are women who are stewards, supervisors, safety officers and CEO’s of sports grounds, women who chair safety advisory groups, women who are police match commanders, there are opportunities at every level and as a woman there is no reason you shouldn’t put yourself forward if you are interested. And who wouldn’t be? It’s such a fascinating and varied area of work.

Jill McCracken: There’s no doubt that it can take a long time to build a reputation and skill set in both the safety and security industry irrespective of whether you are a male or female. My advice would be, be patient, find a mentor and take every opportunity to observe events and how other people work. Look for ways to continually improve, and there’s no better way than asking for feedback from those who’s opinions you value. Be nice. It’s very easy to post critical comments or bland statements on social media sites but you will very rarely see the full picture behind situations. The best people I have worked with and who have helped me get to where I am have been willing to share the reasons behind their successes and more importantly, their failures. Ask for help when you need it, because no one knows everything. We all make mistakes but acknowledging that makes us better.

Lou Elliston: Sports ground safety is very much a team effort. Not only within the sports ground, but with agencies outside. It is therefore vital that there should be understanding and consideration of the impact decisions might make on other organisations. Good listening and negotiating skills are essential to reach accommodation with a number of organisations. Commercial departments often have good ideas to promote the sport, but little understanding of the potential safety implications, so there must be a gatekeeper!

Ann Ramage: You need to be good at what you do. It is proven that women in roles at all levels bring different and important qualities and that diverse mix helps organisations deliver well or make good decisions. I would say that it is important to fit in and you will need to accept that you’re entering a male dominant workplace so just embrace all the good things about that rather than trying to change the world. It is certainly proven in stewarding at sports grounds that women can help diffuse situations better than some of their male counterparts in similar roles.  At senior levels women can often collaborate well and this will help with good decision making.   So seeing best practice implemented by women is the best way of increasing our numbers!