In episode 2 Michelle Moore discusses intersectionality, what needs to change to help more people from diverse backgrounds succeed and how a sporting mindset has helped her achieve success in her career.
Michelle Moore is a former athlete, consultant, executive coach, speaker and activist promoting equality in sport. She is a Trustee of Runnymede – the UK’s leading independent race equality think tank – and runs her own consultancy. In The Independent’s 50 Most Influential Women in Sport list 2015 she was highlighted “as someone to watch”. Visit her website here.
Read an article by Michelle here: The Question of Diversity and Inclusion in Women’s Sport.
THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
TX: 15.10.16 – Ep 2. Michelle Moore – equality activist on diversity and success in sport
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR[Music]
TP: Welcome to A Question of Performance. I’m Tammy Parlour and in this series I’ll be talking with leading figures from sport and business about what improves, limits and drives performance. Join me for 20 minutes of discussion twice a month to hear a range of views on what it means to be successful, how to cope with failure and what people have learnt along the way.[Music]
I’m here with Michelle Moore. Michelle is a former athlete, consultant, Executive Coach, speaker and activist promoting equality in sport. She’s a Trustee of Runneymede the UK’s leading independent Race Equality Think Tank and runs her consultancy. In 2015, she was featured in the Independence 50 most influential women in sport list as someone to watch. Hi, Michelle, thanks for joining me today.
MM: Hi, hello.
TP: Do you think sport has helped be successful in your professional career?
MM: Absolutely, I’m a former athlete so I was a 400 metre runner and I started athletics when I was nine years old and gave up in my mid-20’s. So it really gave me a lot of discipline in my formative years and very much really learnt from some of my successes and my wins, but learnt mostly from losses [laughs] I have to say. And the lessons that I kind of took from my sport translated into my professional career. I took that element of focus and tunnel vision and was able to achieve and succeed within the education sector and also working within sport as well, and so it really did kind of set a platform for me to think about what I wanted to achieve and how I was going to get there. So the focus that I learnt from my training and the discipline I got from actually competing really helped me aspire to many things in my career.
TP: You talk about focus and discipline and so forth, there’s a lot of talk about mind-set but that’s not the only determinant of success, what I’m particularly interested in talking to you about is the other stuff: context, culture, environment, systems that sort of thing because those matter as well. I know you talk a lot about intersectionality, what does that exactly mean and what does it have to do with performance?
MM: Oh, there’s an intersectionality theory which is basically where we look at the systems and structures that form our identity, and you might stand at different crossroads that those intersections of oppression so that might mean you come from very different groups. So I am a woman of colour, I’m a woman and I might have a disability that you don’t know about and I might come from a deprived background – a poor background, so I could come from a working class background, so the overlaps of where those multiple levels of discrimination actually mean is what intersectionality is about.
So when we’re talking about the context of sport for example, and one of the things that I’m really passionate about, as you know, is how young women access sport. So if that young woman happens to be black or Asian from a deprived community and have a disability, how she accesses sport is actually very different to how a young white girl might access sport, so it’s all about those different levels and those different forms of discrimination that exist and how they play out in somebody’s identity.
TP: So there are obviously different access issues. Are there other parts of performance that are affected by it?
MM: So if we think about the institutions in this country and we think about how sport is managed, how it’s governed, how it’s administered, actually they’re not reflective of everybody in our communities in which we live and not reflective of diverse communities. And when that happens you have an environment that therefore it doesn’t engender everybody to be able to perform at their best. So if you think about a sporting environment, a sport’s governing body or the administration of sport you might find that actually the leadership and the governance isn’t very diverse, so then how therefore does it work with those people that are diverse within that organisation? So if you’re not able to see role models that look like you, if there’s no representation you’re less likely to succeed in a performance way in terms of your progression and your career development.
TP: So if we’re talking about let’s say BAME, black Asian minority ethnic athletes, how we can create an environment that supports success that supports performance. You touched on leadership roles at board levels making sure the diversity at that level, what else can we do to make a successful environment?
MM: I think it all comes down to inclusive practice and dependent on the sport, you might see actually lots of black and Asian athletes. We know within football for example you have a lot of black players on the pitch. We know certain sports more traditional sports really find it difficult to engage with ethnic minorities and so some of the traditional sports: rowing, rugby not as diverse in terms of players and athletes. So when we think about what is it that can be done it’s about how you structure it if you want to make sure that there’s diversity behind the sport and in the makings and the administration of sport; you have to be deliberate in your practice, so you have to be inclusive at the leadership level, at the middle leadership level and at the grassroots level. So it’s how do you plumb into those organisations inclusion and the diversity of thought that’s needed to actually move that organisation forward, and that means that there’s a whole 360 degree audit of what needs to happen within that organisation, recruitment practices, the diversity of the leadership and the staff in all the different sections of the organisation. And, at the end of the day, the commitment to equalities and those issues that are important in terms of understanding the business case around diversity. We know that if you have a diverse board and if you have a diverse workforce you have higher performing teams because there’s that divergence in thinking that comes about. So when you experience problems you’re less likely to get stuck because actually there’s a difference there, not everybody thinks in the same way.
TP: Do you think things are improving?
MM: I think there are ways in which some organisations feel that they are doing the training and development side of the work around inclusion and diversity but it becomes a tick box. So, at the moment, it’s quite trendy, if you like, to do unconscious bias training and to do ethnic minority and women’s leadership initiatives, but they end up being very bolt-on initiatives. So EDI the acronym becomes almost a flavour of the month – we’ve done that this month, we’re going to concentrate on something else, but actually it needs to be embedded into the internal structures of that organisation and that means really uncovering the diversity and the people that work within that organisation and their experiences and then, from that, developing a plan.
And it has to come from the top, it has to come with senior level buy-in, and the only in which you do that is by making sure that you have at least three people of difference on a leadership board because research tells us that when there are three people they are more likely to make a change, so one person who is different isn’t going to be able to do it on their own.
TP: So let’s talk about for a moment about the individual athlete, what advice would you give to a BAME athlete who is wanting to move into a sport that problem isn’t naturally or hasn’t got a great…
MM: Isn’t popular?
TP: Yeah, isn’t as popular?
MM: Well the thing about sport is that you’ve got to love it haven’t you? And I think that if there’s a young Asian woman who wants to row then she should be able to row, and she needs to be able to find her allies within the sport to help her access sport. And so straightaway she’s got to do different things to the homogenous group, if you like, to be able to enjoy the sport that she loves. I’m just doing some work actually around the Muslim female athlete and their experience with sport, and actually, at the moment, in basketball if you’re a Muslim woman and you wear a Hijab you can’t actually participate in basketball because of the FIFA rule around it at the moment. So for women of colour for women who have a different religion in terms of that might affect their attire, there are lots and lots of different barriers that they experience. And so I would encourage and I would support and I would personally use my own influence to help find a pathway for them, and so it’s about them finding their allies and finding allegiances and the support groups that are out there that will help them to navigate their way through. And I think that’s it really important that everybody gets to do the sport that they want to do and it’s about finding those people that can help them do it.
TP: What about you, you’re a former athlete, did you have barriers yourself to getting into sport?
MM: Not really, I always feel a little bit of a fraudster because I didn’t compete at an international level, I was a county athlete and I kind of stopped when I realised that I wasn’t going to become an international and I decided that I needed to focus on my career. But it had such a big impact on my life and that’s the mind-set that I have, I always remember – talking about myself in the third person and somebody pointed it out to me and it’s actual thing where it’s called Illeism and actually it’s shown psychologically that it calms you down as an athlete and it enables you to kind of compartmentalise a bit. And so that the things I learnt from my athletics was really helpful for me because it’s almost like I always saw myself outside of myself and so therefore I was able to really identify the bits of myself that would help progress far quicker in my professional career.
So I was promoted very early in my career, I didn’t take the normal steps within an education I became an Assistant Head very early in a large secondary school, I then had a very senior role within the Council very early on, and I kind of fast-forwarded my career based on my attitude that I took from my sport mind-set of trying to get those marginal gains in everything that I did. So, actually, I over-performed in job that I had and one of my most brilliant jobs, the job that I was most passionate about was where it encapsulated all of my passions was when I worked for Charlton Athletic Race Equality Partnership, which was the community department of the football club and it was a new role and it took of all my passions around sport, education, young people in community development and brought it all together. And it wasn’t something new but I created it but I wanted it to be the best in the country and we were innovative in some of our practice. And so that competitive side really came out for me and it was an environment where I felt really comfortable because it was an environment where I was working with as Asian man, an African man, a white woman and a disabled young man as well, and we were all different in our own way and that enabled me to be able to perform at my best.
TP: What fuels this desire to be at your best and to achieve and to excel, do you know what fuels that?
MM: I don’t know, I think I maybe just have a natural aptitude to want to do the best that I can, and I think that comes from my own personal background in terms of my family who always had high expectations for me and I think sport then helped me enhance that more. And we, as a family, we kind of had to fight through some barriers, my Mum’s white and she’s English and my Dad’s black and he’s from Guyana, and I always remember we experienced – I’m a twin so I talk in the plural – and we experienced quite a lot of racism when we were younger in very subtle ways, but then our Mum actually had it very overtly, so she would be called name in the streets and spat at her and so therefore from a very early age I was able to internalise some of that and I think my desire to want to create change and actually be a part of the solution when it comes to addressing issues where I think that it’s unfair and trying to redress inequality stems from that. And my Gran from Guyana came over here in the 50’s with one suitcase and my Dad who was three and my Aunt who was 10 and really made it so that I and my sister could have every opportunity available to us.
So I always kind of draw on that strength and think about where we’ve come from and actually striving to be the best that we can and getting the best out of…actually every aspect of my life is something that she would have wanted for me and she made those sacrifices back then and so it’s an honour and a testament to her really.
TP: Dealing with that sort of racial abuse at a young age must – yeah, must have been absolutely terrible, but to be able to turn it round and have it that it’s a fuel that makes you want to do better is really quite admirable, its’ really to turn a negative into a positive?
MM: I don’t know I kind of don’t really see it like that. I see that that’s a part of my history and when I was young it was something that happened and you don’t really understand it, it’s only when you think back and you look back and think, ‘Why have I got that sense of is this is so unfair I am going to fight it no matter what.’ It doesn’t matter what it is, but if somebody is disadvantaged in some way then that pulls me out of…really, I think if I was clever enough I would have been a lawyer but I was never that academic.[Laughter]
So I think, to me, it’s not something that’s admirable it’s just something that’s a part of my make-up and so therefore I just…
TP: It is what it is.
MM: Yeah and it’s who I am, it’s a part of my history and it’s about remembering that and that helps me to focus on the things that need to get done.
TP: If you look at what you have achieved and where you’ve come from, where you are now and so forth, do you see yourself as successful?
MM: That’s a really funny question, because I think that you’re always learning and, for me, there’s loads of stuff that I don’t know and I know that I don’t know that. But I also know that when I was at school my teachers didn’t really have any faith in me and I wasn’t the bright spark, and my sister was always a bit brighter than me, a prettier than me and I always remember thinking, ‘Oh, this is going to be a tough gig,’ but, actually, I rolled with every single opportunity that’s come my way, and I’m one of those people that will walk through the door of that opportunity, even if I’m not sure if I can do it, I kind of will suck it up a little bit and just fake it until I make it. And, therefore, I did get my degree and I got a Masters in education as well – we went to a terrible secondary school and my teachers had no faith in me and it was just ironic that actually years later I’d done my Masters and my university, South Bank University wanted a visiting lecturer had to go back and do some leadership modules at a secondary school, and I said, “Yeah, they asked me if I would do it,” and I was like, “You’re asking me to lecture on a masters course? This is crazy.” But I said, “Yeah, of course,” and they said, “Oh it’s this school and it’s in this place,” and I was like oh my gosh it was my old secondary school.
MM: And so I went back and I delivered this model. And so those things remind me that actually I’ve come a long way and small things happen that are actually big things. I was in the petrol station the other day and a young man was serving me and he said, “Miss Moore, do you remember? Do you remember me?” and I was like gosh, “I think I do, yes.” And about 10 years, maybe 15 years ago I’d done an assembly in a school and I’d put up a picture of my black Gran and my white Grandad, which is always a powerful picture of them back in the 50’s, and I talked my history and my ancestry and was very open about my identity with about a thousand kids. I talked about being a woman of colour, being black and looking very white, and they were fascinated by it, and he recited this assembly back to me.[Laughter]
And we were having this like bizarre quite deep conversation and I just think something that I’ve done, a small thing that I’ve done has made a difference to that young person in some way so he thinks slightly differently about people who are different to him. So I take success as those little stories that come at me, or if I’ve done something to help I really think it’s important to uncover talent, talent of those black and Asian women specifically doing amazing things behind the scenes, and if I can uncover talent and get them nominated for an award or shout about their successes so the media pick it up and do lots of introductions and broker connections and then something amazing happens, often always does for those individuals, I take a lot of heart from that and get a lot of satisfaction from that kind of work.
TP: Well it’s been brilliant talking to you, Michelle. Just to finish it up, I’ve got some quick fire questions that I am asking.
MM: [Laughs] Okay.
TP: So are you ready for this?
MM: Yeah, go for it!
TP: What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
MM: I had granola and low fat yoghurt, natural yoghurt and a smoothie – I have a kale and wheatgrass carrot thing every day.
TP: God, that sounds disgusting! [Laughs].
MM: It’s not that pleasant but it keeps me going.
TP: [Laughs] Favourite piece of sports kit?
MM: I think it has to be my water bottle to be honest, because I play netball every Saturday and Thursday night and I need that water.
TP: Sporting hero?
MM: I’m a big big Serena Williams fan and Mohammed Ali.
TP: I feel like I don’t need to ask why, but I suppose I do need to – why?
MM: Well, for me, Serena uses her platform to make amazing contributions to the world and she just epitomises what it means to be a role model; she makes commentary around issues to do with equality and she stands up for what she believes in and I think she’s amazing.
Mohammed Ali, he’s a sporting great, he’s an icon that actually transcends sport and is somebody that I look to and I kind of take his quotes and I read them out and I take inspiration and strength from his journey.
TP: I must admit I’m a big fan of both of them as well. Most useless piece of advice you either received or given to somebody else?
MM: I don’t really…it’s a bit tricky.
TP: Did you store that?
MM: Yeah, it kinds of goes away. When somebody like that, I have to say even if somebody says something and I think it’s ridiculous I forget their name…
TP: [Over speech].
MM: Yeah, but I think the most useless stuff that I get is really, ‘Oh, you’ve got taller, you’ve grown,’ all of that and that kind of stuff. It’s like no, I’ve stopped growing since I was 21, I’m six foot two and that’s it, so that’s the kind of most useless comment that I get most often.
TP: Greatest passion outside of sport?
MM: Well I’ve a real commitment to equality and social justice, so I’d say that and my family and I love to travel.
TP: And last one, best performance enhancer?
MM: Losing, so…
MM: …yeah, if…I was actually taken off the netball court last week and for one reason or another, which was unfair, but I had to suck it up, and I was just livid and it just stayed with me for the whole week. I’ve never been taken of a court and it was about giving some other players some time on court and what have you, but the following week I made sure that I played out of my socks and there is no way on this Earth that I’d ever be taken off that netball court again, because I out-performed the player that I was playing against – she was 24 and I’m 43, we won the match and I had a great match. So, actually, losing…coming off a court and we lost the previous game – being taken off and not being able to take part in that victory was really kind of terrible for me. So, actually, losing is the biggest lesson for me so that really spurs me on to perform my best.
TP: Brilliant. Thank you so much, Michelle.
MM: My pleasure.[Music]
TP: Thanks for listening. You can follow the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and also don’t forget to subscribe online to aquestionofperformance.com.[Music]
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