Tony Fernandes, Brendon Batson and Heather Rabbatts recognised for governance in football


Several high profile names from the football world gathered at Wembley last night to celebrate the graduation of the second cohort of the ‘On The Board’ Effective Board Member (EBM) programme. Also recognised during the evening in the presence of football bosses including Bobby Barnes, Deputy Chief Executive at the Professional Footballers’ Association; Greg Dyke, Chairman of The Football Association; and Richard Bevan, Chief Executive of the League Managers Association were Tony Fernandes CBE, Heather Rabbatts CBE and Brendon Batson.


The EBM Award for ‘Significant Contribution to Governance in Football’ is a strategic leadership award which recognises the ambassadorial contribution and visibility in the field and contribution to the advancement of diversity in leadership and supporting the development of the pipeline for leadership. As Chairman at QPR, Fernandes has welcomed the progression of BAME staff including Les Ferdinand MBE who he promoted to Director of Football earlier this year and Chris Ramsey, now manager at the club. In her capacity as the only female Director at The FA, Heather is widely known for promoting the importance of diversity in sport and is a supporter of improving the pipeline of BAME groups across leadership positions in the sport.


A pioneer of black players in football, Batson, along with his then teammates Cyrille Regis and the late Laurie Cunningham were often subjected to extreme racism from fans. Having retired from the pitch, he has worked his way through the ranks at the PFA from senior administrator and previously serving as Deputy Chief Executive of the players union. When being recognised for his contribution, Brendon praised the work of the EBM programmes highlighting the achievements of the graduates and how the programme has been delivered. He gave an empowering address to the audience highlighting some of the barriers that he has overcome over many years in football.


The Award comes at a time when there is still much to do to tackle the lack of diversity on boards within football. According to the Sport’s Peoples Think Tank, “…only 19 ethnic minority coaches are employed in 552 positions across 92 professional clubs, just 3.4% of the roles available.”


On The Board seeks to tackle this issue and help to transfer the ambassadorial experience and insight of players to the boardrooms of clubs across the country. Those completing the course praise it’s aims and outcomes, with Hughton stating; “EBM has given me the chance to broaden my career opportunities, as well as enhancing my ability to relate to boards of directors in my current role.” He is one of only a handful of black managers across the top four tiers of English football. When speaking about The FA’s support of the programme, Dyke stated that; ‘… where BAME players are successful in attaining board places in the game, it will help to widen the diversity of the decision makers in football.”


Created by leading governance consultant Karl George MBE, founder of the Effective Board Member Programmes (EBM), On The Board in conjunction with Sports On Board and sponsored by the PFA and The FA seeks to help players and others involved in football to progress from the pitch to the boardroom. Previous graduates include Les Ferdinand MBE and Chris Ramsey. Notable names such as Chris Hughton, Rachel Yankey, Ugo Ehiogu and Ken Monkou are among the course participants.


The graduation of players throws a spotlight on the continued commitment of the PFA and The FA to tackle the lack of diversity on boards within the sport. The collaboration of EBM and the PFA is achieving results with several participants having already gained board appointments or undertaken board observations. Nathan Blake who graduated from On The Board in 2014 is one example having gained a non-executive position at Newport County A.F.C.


Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive at the PFA, which is the main sponsor of the programme said; “the governance forum is an ideal partner having delivered a similar programme to young, private sector professionals and we are keen to replicate the success with footballers.” The course is accredited by the Association of Corporate Governance Practitioners and Edinburgh Napier University making it a valuable addition to any CV.


For more information about joining the Effective Board Member Programmes, please contact us on 0845 505 1875 or email us at

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Football bosses gather at Wembley to watch players graduate from pitch to boardroom


 Footballers from the second cohort of the ‘On The Board’ Effective Board Member programme graduate at Wembley on Wednesday 15th April 2015.  The ceremony will be attended by graduates and officials from the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), The Football Association (FA) and the League Managers Association (LMA) including Bobby Barnes Deputy Chief Executive at the PFA; Greg Dyke, Chairman of the FA; and Richard Bevan, Chief Executive of the LMA. Chris Hughton, Rachel Yankey, Ugo Ehiogu and Ken Monkou are among the graduates. Read More

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Equality & Diversity and the Board


Ash dieback threatens the survival of the Ash tree in the UK – and the flora and fora that depend on it. Listening to the Today programme I learned that the British Ash is more limited in its genetic diversity than Ash elsewhere in Europe, weakening its chances of survival. As the Forestry Commission comments: “the single best strategy (to improve resilience) is to increase the genetic and age diversity of your woodland”.

Why diversity matters to Boards as well as trees…

Diversity on boards is important for a number of reasons – to better reflect the communities we serve or understand markets and customers we may not be reaching, to ease succession planning and build capacity for renewal, to meet regulatory expectations and achieve fit with partners’ or customers’ policy objectives (1) – but the single most important reason to increase diversity is to improve the quality of thinking.

Self-evidently, the quality of thinking impacts on decision making. We know for example that faced with increasing complexity, cognitive limitations are a constraint on strategic thinking. Individuals develop unconscious thinking habits which are to some extent culturally influenced. The important role of a board team that has challenging conversations has been well illustrated by governance failures.

Furthermore, recent scandals have often had at their root a ‘disconnect’ between organisational values and business direction. Boards seem to have lost touch with their moral compass (2). Among other factors, we know that a group of similar and like-minded individuals – especially a long standing one – reduces the likelihood of prevailing assumptions being effective challenged (the well documented phenomenon of ‘group think’).

More positively a growing trend has been reported recently to put values and effectiveness at the top of the board agenda2. The importance of a balanced Board in terms of gender in particular has had a higher profile since the Davies report (2011) made recommendations for action to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms. Research measuring the share price performance of 2,360 companies globally over the past six years demonstrated that firms with women on boards consistently out-performed those led entirely by men. It concluded that “it would on average have been better to have invested in corporates with women on their management boards than in those without” (Credit Suisse Research Institute 2012) (1) Most of us would recognise a similar imbalance in the age and ethnic make-up of Boards.

And what about equality?

Diversity without equality does not deliver – if new joiners have to fit in with the group, on the group’s terms, they will not produce the improvements in Board performance discussed above. Interpreting someone else’s difference from the perspective of one’s own ‘normality’ marginalises those perceived as different.  Equality is about removing barriers and ensuring all groups (specifically those with “protected characteristics” who have legislative protection) have equal access and can participate on an equal basis. Their experience and skills are equally valued with those of others.  This is often confused with ‘equity’ i.e. being fair (although fairness is not a bad moral touchstone) or treating people as if they are the same (hence a positive approach to diversity starts from appreciating difference).

Diversity means recognising that differences are individual as well as societal, cultural, religious etc. Each of us has an individual relationship with our own background and influences, and brings our own unique perspective to a Board team. Ticking boxes and counting numbers just won’t do it –it’s a means of measuring action, not action in itself. Truly diverse and equal Boards are leadership teams made up of individuals who all contribute from a position of equality and in their own unique way to collectively make the best possible decisions and guide their organisations through uncharted waters. As the old adage has it, if you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got – and in times of change that simply won’t cut it.

Author: Patricia McCabe FACGP

(1) Credit Suisse Research Institute (2011). The research identified several key reasons why greater gender diversity correlated with stronger corporate performance, which included greater effort across the board, a better mix of leadership skills, access to a wider pool of talent and better reflection of the consumer.

(2) Governance Insights- the tone of governance Grant Thornton October 2012

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