In conversation with Get on Board candidate Priya Samuel on her journey into sport and ambition to lead

Next month, Sport England will release a new report into Diversity in Sport Governance to put their case forward for increasing the number of diverse Board members across Sport England and UK-Sport funded bodies. A previous study* had found that only 26 out of 601 board positions (4%) included BAME members and out of 68 sports organisations only one has a BAME CEO.

With a passion for sport and a wealth of experience, Board level work should have been a natural stepping stone for Priya Samuel. However, it was not until someone else pointed out to her that she had all the skills necessary to provide expertise at this level did she begin to consider such roles.

What do you do for a living?

I’m the Health and Wellbeing Board Partnerships Manager for Richmond and Wandsworth. I work with health and social care system leaders and wider providers to deliver services that meet the needs of local residents.

Tell us about your journey into sport?

I was always a ‘sporty child’ and played any sport I could. I particularly love netball and played since the age of 8. I knew from a young age that I wanted a career in sports development. I’ve worked at various sports development organisations, but always with the same motivation – to increase participation by delivering safe, quality and fun spo

When did you first realise your ambition to join a Sports Board?

I was always aware of sports governance structures and generally sports Board members looked very similar, coming from similar backgrounds and therefore I never thought about applying for this type of role. It was not until someone had asked why I was not using my knowledge to influence sport at governance level? I then realised I can make a valuable contribution to sport at this strategic level and I should put myself forward.

Image courtesy of Mint Memories Ltd

Many BAME women feel that even today, there are several barriers to their success. Do you feel that progress is being made? What more needs to be done? 

It’s very noticeable that the number of BAME women involved in sports are few and far between and when you look into Sports Boards this is more evident. Therefore there are no role models for others to follow or be inspired by. 

The challenges faced by BAME women involve the stigma of working in sport, often seen by family as not ‘the expected career path’. We really need to showcase sports as a genuine career option with several paths to those part of the BAME community. We need to attract more BAME women into sport roles by introducing them to role models. We also need to lobby sport decision makers to reflect BAME representation within sports governance. Generally BAME women do not put themselves forward for executive roles, The Get On Board programme is a huge step forward to change these issues.

Where do you think that YOU could add value to a Sports Board?

I have sound experience of sports development and sports for development delivered at local, national and international levels across multiple sports. This, combined with my extensive strategic partnership background enables me to provide unique insight on such a Board, a perspective that I believe is currently missing from Sports Boards.

Do you think it’s important to have an affinity to a sport to join its board? 

It is quite important to have an interest in the sport the Board is connected to however, it is just as vital to demonstrate that you have the skills and experience that they are seeking. It’s essential for Board members to bring expertise and knowledge that will help them make informed and evidence based decisions in a transparent way to move the governing body forward. I believe we should use the sports experience of governing body staff and sports volunteers to further develop any new Board member’s sports specific knowledge. 

How have you found RimJhim’s Get on Board Programme so far? What have you learned/hope to learn?

Being selected for the Get on Board programme has given me access to learning tools and a support network which I have never had. During the first training session the cohort were able to develop our ‘Board profile’ by developing our own brand identity. This perspective was hugely insightful. To have continued support from Rimla and Sarah has been valuable. They provide the personal touch and even in these early stages of the programme have offered their time to ensure we are Board ready and give us one to one time to help prepare for interviews. This is very much appreciated as they are supporting this programmes alongside other programmes.

The Get on Board Programme is funded by Sport England and is a ten-month senior-level initiative in conjunction with other partners to help prepare high achieving women for board-level positions within the sports sector. 

*Figures courtesy of Sporting Equals.