Category: testimonial, Women in Leadership, Gender Focus, Gender Equality, UK Athletics, Flexible Working, Flexible, gender diversity, sport, What Our People Say, Staff Testimonial, Athletics, athletes, women in boardroom, remote working, COVID-19, British Athletics, flexibility
Joanna Coates is the new CEO of UK Athletics and joined the company in March 2020.
Previously Joanna was the Chief Commercial Officer at the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). She was the Chief Executive Officer of England Netball from 2015 to 2019, including for the memorable gold medal success at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Renowned across sport for having professionalised netball by bringing in major sponsors and television agreements, Joanna grew grassroots participation and media coverage for the sport and led the expansion of the Vitality Superleague franchise system.
Her time at England Netball concluded last summer with the hosting of the most successful Netball World Cup in history. Before her role at England Netball, Joanna was a Commercial Director for the Football Conference and a Director at Notts County Football Club.
The awards Joanna has won include: Netball BBC SPTOTY 2018, Greatest Moment of the year 2018, Sunday Times Team of the Year 2018, Sports Writers Team of the Year 2018 and Sports Industry National Governing Body of the Year 2019.
We took five with Joanna to find out her experience of UK Athletics so far, what challenges COVID-19 is presenting on sport and how to encourage more women into senior positions in sport.
- How does it feel to be the new CEO of UK Athletics?
It’s a privilege to work for any governing body or sport. It’s an amazing industry to work in.
- What are you enjoying most about your new position?
It brings an opportunity to make change and to leave UK Athletics in better state than I found it. The passion of the people is amazing. It’s in abundance in athletics which is fantastic. In an awful way, even though events are postponed, we have the opportunity of how to speed up change. I’m loving that sort of stuff but I just haven’t met my team yet which is very strange. We’ve gotten to know each other through zoom and teams but it has been strange.
- Does COVID-19 present particular challenges for you in your new role?
It has been a challenge because it’s different to sitting in a room with people and having informal communications. Calls are very structured and we need a big piece around behaviours and cultures and that’s difficult to do remotely.
- What has been the impact of COVID-19 on UK Athletics and on sport in general?
It has presented real challenges. We had to shut the office, the same as everyone else. When you work in sports organisations it’s nice to get out and see the volunteers so not being able to do that has been a challenge. We had to cancel a major event, the same as every other sport in this country at the moment. It’s also a huge challenge for the athletes, they’ve really suffered.
- What are the biggest challenges for UK Athletics at this time?
It’s the impact on the athletes. This is their job, they are extraordinary people who put their bodies through extraordinary things so that impact has been huge and we’ve had to really take care of them. Mental health too; they can’t physically do what they train to do. Financially the cancelling of major events. We’ve never seen such a financial impact.
- How did it feel winning the National Governing Body of the Year 2019 award for netball?
To be awarded that by the sports industry and for them to say you are the top sports organisation in the country for that year was a great recognition for all in the sport. It rounded off an incredible year and to be rewarded as business was great for every member of staff and the volunteers.
- What would you say is your biggest career achievement to date?
I think there’s a couple. Winning the Commonwealth gold and the growth of participation and impact on women and girls that netball gave. It changed so many lives at participation level.
- Is it harder for women to climb the career ladder than men in sport and why?
I like to think it’s less difficult now but it was way harder for women than men. I’ve been involved for over twenty years and seen very few female leaders in sport. I’ve been at dinners where there were 300 men and me and football was even more stark. Women didn’t necessarily think sport was the place for them. There are more women now but not enough. There is still a bit of an ‘old boy’s’ network and recruiters go down traditional routes.
- How do we encourage more women into leadership positions in sport?
We have to have more senior female leaders. You can’t be it if you can’t see it. We have a responsibility that throughout our organisation there is fair representation, also across ethnicity. If there are diverse groups of people in roles businesses will be more successful. We have to ensure we are putting women in high positions and encouraging them to apply. Recruiters need to look outside traditional systems to encourage women to apply. That goes across ethnicity and disability as well.
- Can you tell me about the Women in Leadership Programme at UK Athletics?
It’s a platform to connect with other women, share skills and expand and climb up the ladder. It’s doing amazing stuff and we want to become a bigger part of that.
- What have been the results of the programme so far?
We have a very positive response and now world athletics have adopted it and taken it further to a gender leadership programme. UK Athletics are seen as thought leaders in this space.
- How do you feel about diversity at your company?
We’re really passionate about diversity. Diversity is what makes business better. Sport is one of most diverse and inclusive sports and the workforce volunteer infrastructure should mirror that. I would love to be the first sport where our infrastructure reflects sport itself.
- What does the future of UK Athletics look like?
The future of UK Athletics under my tenure looks positive. I want to change the narrative around sport and achieve more medals (but not at the detriment of the athletes).
- What would you say to a young candidate looking to work at your company about the benefits and company culture they can expect?
It is a privilege to work in sport. It’s making people feel better and helping people accomplish their dream of getting medals. You can help shape the behaviours and culture of this business.
Thank you Joanna and we wish you the best of luck in your new position.