As we round off June, Pride Month- an important date in the calendar for us all- we’re taking this opportunity to not only remember those who took part in the New York protests back in 1969, but to reflect on all that we’ve achieved to date in 2023. There’s still a way to go to reach true equity and inclusion, but with 50+ Pride Months now under our belts, it’s clear to see the passion and determination is still just as strong.
With this in mind, we were lucky to have Chris Paouros join us for some Q&As about how to get Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) into football settings. Chris has been working in and around the industry for nearly five years. She has 25+ years experience of working with businesses, SMEs, and charities- as well as being a life-long Spurs fan.
Q: What do you think has been the biggest change in terms of EDI in business, sports, charities and other organisations?
The biggest change in recent years was the Equality Act 2010. It was a big change for organisations, so in the early days, (I ran a boutique business consultancy back then) the thing I was talking to my clients about was compliance, and that was the start of the journey for me- working with businesses and charities to ensure compliance. Of course that was just the start...
Q: What challenges do you think organisations have faced in implementing EDI policies?
Organisations work at their own pace, so it’s not a really a case of who’s getting it right, and who’s taking their time to get it right. Some organisations see EDI as a ‘nice to have’- but as the workforce is evolving, the talent you’re trying to attract and retain sees EDI as a necessity, so it’s now becoming a must-have.
Having money to invest matters, but it’s becoming less of an issue as EDI becomes embedded. We're thankfully moving towards having EDI as part of organisational culture, and it’s now seen as essential for better decision-making and growth.
Q: Can you tell us a little about how you came to work with football institutions, including Premier League, FA and Football Supporters Association as part of your EDI role?
I’ve always loved football, ever since I first went to a game at 6 yrs old. The sense of togetherness and unity that you feel as a fan is like nothing else.
But I never actually had a plan to work in football. It was more something I did in my leisure time, both as a fan and as a grassroots manager of a women’s team. Then something happened in my personal life that ended up being pretty transformative for me. It made me think, ‘do I want to work 12-14 hrs a day for someone else, or do I want to work for myself?’ … so I started working for myself- and it freed me up to volunteer for causes that mean a lot to me.
Football is our national game. In childhood, it’s a great example of how we learn to work, play, celebrate and commiserate together- and as we grow older, it becomes a common language. And football clubs are rooted in their communities, using their status and reach to deliver health and well-being for local people.
Alongside my passion for football, I’ve always been an advocate for social justice too- and it quickly became clear to me that the game can be a real lightning rod for transformational social change. I felt a real drive to make the game better, to push out discrimination and instead embed inclusion, using football’s voice- and reach- to make social change.
When we started the Proud Lilywhites we could see that there was a lot of great work going on, and we thought ‘how can we compliment this?’ From there we met Kick It Out, Football v Homophobia, Fans for Diversity and Women in Football. We nurtured relationships, and eventually built up enough confidence to apply for the FA Inclusion Advisory Board- and then just took it all from there!
Q: What would your advice be for organisations striving for EDI in the workplace, particularly in terms of menstrual and menopausal health?
We all know that for anyone to thrive in the workplace, they need to be be able to do their best work, and be their best selves. But we also know that the 9-5 workplace is a patriarchal construct, devoid of flexibility and built for those without any caring responsibilities. We saw during Covid that this doesn’t need to be the case, so we should continue to reimagine it. More diversity means better business- so we need policies and processes in place which will promote a culture that’s inclusive for everybody in the workplace.
“Equality is giving everyone a pair of shoes, Equity is giving everyone a pair of shoes (or pants!) that fit.”
Over the last few years, I’ve seen better menopause policies in organisations, and I imagine that’s due to more women in senior positions, which is great. Traditionally, the majority of senior leaders are men- so menstrual health is delayed behind other issues. There is still undeniably an ‘ick’ factor that needs addressing.
If you want to attract and retain talent, having a menstrual health policy can help. Think of it as part of the Talent Policy, and make it your mission to ensure the whole senior leadership understands the importance.
Q: How has your work with Football Supporters’ Association (FSA), and developing the Proud Lilywhites (Spurs LGBTQ+ supporters group), enabled people to make safer spaces in football?
It’s a big question- we could talk about that and nothing else! We know fans are at the heart of everything in football. LGBTQ+ fans have always existed, but we’ve grown a movement (with assistance from the FSA and Fans for Diversity) and set up the UK’s network of LGBTQ+ fan groups, Pride in Football.
When we started, there were 4 LGBTQ+ supporters groups, and now there are 50+. Pride in Football exists so that every LGBTQ+ fan who might have thought that football wasn’t for them, can be sure that it is.
Football is all about unity, and with the Proud Lilywhites, we wanted to make sure that every LGBTQ+ Spurs fan knew that they belonged too. The big progress flag in the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is the best illustration of this; wherever you are, either in the Stadium or in the world, you know that this Club is yours too. You can’t underestimate that.
LGBTQ+ fans are football fans first and foremost, so the links to the FSA are important. They organise around ticket prices, safe standing and safety at European games- and that matters to us. It’s also crucial that we link up with other groups of fans, whether it’s Supporters’ Trusts like THST (Tottenham Hotspur Supporters' Trust) or other Spurs fan groups organising, to ensure welcome and inclusion like SpursREACH (race, ethnicity and cultural heritage) or SpursAbility (for disabled supporters)
“One football fan who was to afraid to go to a match again after hearing homophobic chants saw a pride flag at Wembly and decided they can go to matches again.”
Q4: Why is Pride month still important, and how can we translate more awareness into more actionable change?
“Pride is for life, not just for Christmas” - Pride Month is an opportunity to honour those who have gone before us, to remind us that we still have battles to fight - and to highlight to young people there is still a community, and hope for them.
Hate crimes have risen every year from 2016/17. Trans people especially are under attack in these so-called ‘culture wars’ . Trans folk are some of the most marginalised in our community, and make up a tiny part of it- yet they are deemed such a threat that there are several column inches dedicated to them every day. This feels like scaremongering to fit a right-wing narrative. We have to stick up for our trans siblings; not just because it’s the thin end of the wedge–come for them, come for us all- but because we’re all in this together.
The point of pride is celebrating who we are and who we ALL are, and Pride is another way to stand up and celebrate Trans people.
Q5: You talk about the ‘hierarchies of oppression’ who seek to divide us - the million dollar question: what ARE the hierarchies of oppression, and what is it exactly that we are fighting?
Great question! The answer is structural inequalities. The Sewell Report 2022 tried to tell us there wasn’t structural or institutional racism. We know that’s not true; the Casey report 2023 was very clear that this was the case, citing institutional failings in the Met police in terms of racism, sexism and homophobia- and that comes 24 years after the damning Macpherson report (after the Steven Lawrence Enquiry) which highlighted serious institutional failings in the police.
We still haven’t made enough progress, and we still need to do it together- because the world is set up for patriarchy, white supremacy and heteronormativity; it’s baked into all our structures and institutions.
That’s why we have to unpick everything, every day. It frustrates me that it’s divide and conquer. We need to unite, support each other and fight together.
WUKA is for everybody
We're so thankful to Chris for sharing such fascinating insights! Here a WUKA, we firmly believe that equity, diversity and inclusion should be at the heart of all organisations. As a B Corp brand, we always strive to not only put people and planet over profits and to ensure our values and practise match the ethical benefits of our products- but we're passionate about creating a fairer, more inclusive community too.
We believe that gendered barriers to period comfort should be broken down. We want to make period comfort accessible to the trans, gender fluid and non-binary communities, and be a platform that can support everyone.
As we strive to improve access to sustainable period products, eliminate period poverty and remove period shame and stigma, it’s important that we consider diverse experiences, and we believe that reusable period underwear can help.
And because we know that girls staying in sport is an issue, we've got what you need to stay active too (shop our Perform Collection here).
What is equity and diversity in sport?
An equity and diversity policy in sport means that there are efforts being made to ensure fairness and equality of access to all- regardless of ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation or religion. It means that inequalities are addressed and steps are taken to rectify issues. Sport is for everyone.
What are three common barriers to diversity and inclusion?
The three most common barriers we see are
- Unconscious bias.
- Lack of representation.
These are barriers which make it difficult to ensure true equity, diversity and inclusion- both in sport and in other organisations. They can be overcome by asking questions of your own thoughts and actions, by refusing to ignore the differences and inequalities and by speaking up to challenge them.