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What can businesses learn from how racism is being tackled in football?

07 Apr 2022Inclusion
4 minute read

Kevin Yusuf Coleman, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at BBC Studios, has worked in sport for over 22 years.

“I've developed my knowledge by working at all levels of sport, at the FA, Kick It Out and Brentford FC,” he told us recently, in Vodafone’s global webinar on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. “I’ve worked with grassroots and diverse communities directly impacted by discrimination, I’ve written policy for governing bodies, and I've worked in professional football.”

Kevin was previously grassroots and community lead for Kick It Out, a charity working to challenge discrimination in football. Kick It Out formed at a time when racial discrimination was commonplace in stadiums and for players.

“Because football is a global game, it often reflects society,” explains Kevin. “So, if discrimination, racism and inclusion are big issues for that society, then that will be reflected in football. Society in England expects the national governing body to take this more seriously, and therefore, at the FA, they do.”

Kick It Out is working throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and campaign for positive change - and we are gradually beginning to see that change happening.

“There's a lot of self-policing by fans within stadiums today, and that's changed massively in a relatively short period of time,” says Kevin. “Modern fans won't tolerate it from other fans, and that's where most of it stops. But success will always be measured not by how far the game has come, but how we compare to the rest of society.”

Kevin believes that a lot of the abuse is now down to individuals. “We have the issue that, especially in England, when you walk into a football stadium, you walk into a different culture to the rest of society. Some people think that when they walk into a stadium, regular societal rules go out the window - there's a very tribal feeling about it. People often think, for example, that using abusive language is acceptable in a stadium where it isn't anywhere else, and that's something we really need to change.”

Kevin's experience of discrimination in football has given him valuable insights into how businesses can tackle discrimination. Here are three of the most important lessons he’s learned.

1. Encourage conversation at all levels of your organisation

One of the most important things that businesses can do is encouraging people to have more conversations about racism, discrimination and inclusion. “If you have staff networks, find a way in which they can feed into your D&I strategy,” says Kevin. “Don't just draw up a plan and then tell them about it. Make them feel part of the strategy, so then you experience either success or failure together.”

2. Lead from the top

Whether you’re Gareth Southgate or Bill Gates, it’s so important to lead by example. “Make sure your executive committee are committed to talking about discrimination,” says Kevin. "It gives your staff the confidence to then deliver inclusion in the rest of their work, and it gives them a voice.”

3. Put yourself under external scrutiny

Organisations with poor diversity profiles can tend to shy away from talking about the challenges they’re facing externally – but sharing your targets externally can be a huge advantage. “Think about the aspect of D&I that you can really excel in and focus on that, be a leader in that one thing” says Kevin. “The rest of the industry, and other industries, will follow. You will never reach an inclusive utopia; it's always about a journey. The more comfortable you are with where you are right now and where you're going to, the more likely you are to make a real difference.”

Vodafone is passionate about making the world more connected, inclusive, and sustainable, and committed to creating a place where everyone can truly be themselves and belong.

In December 2021, we announced new ethnic diversity targets to ensure that by 2030, 25% of the company’s global senior leadership – the most senior 160 leaders across Vodafone’s markets in Europe and Africa – will come from ethnically diverse backgrounds. Based on self-declaration, currently 18% of Vodafone’s global senior leadership team are from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

We believe that allyship and standing up for others are important in creating an intentionally anti-racist and building a truly inclusive workplace. But we also recognise the need to constantly educate ourselves and one another. We share knowledge and ideas through regular webinars, such as the one Kevin attended, in which we hear stories from a range of people who have been affected by discrimination.

  • SDG 5
  • Inclusion
  • SDGs
  • Workplace equality

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