Over the last decade, sport has increasingly been used as a tool for empowering young people. However, opportunities to participate in sport are often designed for, and dominated by boys and men which, over time, plays out in what is a traditionally male-dominated sport industry.
Enormous opportunities within sport exists for women to enter and transfer valuable skill-sets and experiences into the industry – bringing a diversity of perspectives and approached needed to craft business strategies - and although these are still largely dominated by men, the number of women in the “business of sport” has been steadily increasing in the Region over the last few years, albeit very slowly. Women are not readily choosing a profession in the field of sport, fitness, health or well-being.
When looking at the still prevalent gender bias in the business arena of sports, we need to take a step back and take a look at sports as a social and empowerment tool long before one enters the workforce. On a social level, participation in sport builds self-esteem, confidence and leadership skills in all areas of life. On a professional level, sport develops skills in management, negotiation and decision-making that empowers women and girls to become leaders in the workplace, in the home and in all areas of community life. A survey of executive women found that 80 per cent played sports in their youth; 69 per cent said sport contributed to their professional success.
During my 10 years working in sports within the Middle East, I have been proud to both witness and lead initiatives aimed at encouraging women to participate in sports and consider it as a career path.
Recently, the first ever Emirati Women Only course - written and delivered by my company InnerG Solutions – was held at the Dubai Ladies Club called 'Introduction to Fitness', which looked at giving women an insight into the fitness and sports industry and the options that existed within it, both as fitness trainers and on a business level.
Another example is a wonderful organization called SMK tennis, founded by Sheikha Shaikha bint Mohammed bin Khalid al Nahyan, is aimed at encouraging and empowering women to play tennis and sports. It recently hosted tennis legend Monica Seles led an exclusive ladies-only event held at the Royal Palace of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi on 7th March, which included a tennis clinic and ‘meet and greet’ with guests.
Initiatives such as these are a great step forward by the UAE in empowering this and the next generation of women in the region to participate in sports and consider it as a career option. While these are significant steps in the right direction, it is clear they are indeed the first of many necessary steps. When I was recently asked by the Dubai Sports Council to recommend Emirati sports qualified and experienced women for their newly established Women’s Division, finding them was a struggle to say the least. It is imperative that the Region continues to intentionally develop initiatives that fuel the mass participation of both genders in sport, which will eventually have effects beyond the social and into the boardroom.
In short, the Middle East sports industry will continue to grow and should fully leverage the opportunities and power of diversity in thinking that comes from having both men and women at its helm.
By Gillian Brunton, Managing Director of InnerG Solutions FZE
Gillian Brunton set up InnerG Solutions in 2013 following successful roles in professional football and Partnership Management of 82 schools in Central London. She is currently championing the framework of 'Designed to Move' campaign released by Nike in 2012, whilst also working alongside some of the biggest organisations in the Middle East and guest speaking at conferences around the globe.
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