Carolyn Radford, CEO of Mansfield Town Football Club
As one of only a handful of female CEOs in professional football I know how hard it can be to make a name for yourself in an industry that’s rife with outdated attitudes.
When I took the job at Mansfield Town FC seven years ago I knew football was a male-dominated world. However I had no idea just how much sexism I would come up against.
But the truth is the world of professional football would be a much better place if more women were involved in the industry.
Which was why I was so disappointed when I heard former Chelsea footballer Jason Cundy’s comments about female commentators last week. In an interview on Good Morning Britain, Jason said he preferred listening to a male football commentator as women’s voices were too high-pitched.
I was incensed. I think it’s fantastic that Vicki Sparks is the first woman to be doing live TV commentary at the World Cup.
And it’s encouraging to see female pundits alongside the usual faces during match analysis too.
Unfortunately I have faced many similarly derogatory and sexist remarks in my own career. When I started at Mansfield nobody was interested in my qualifications or passion for the sport. People just saw a blonde who liked fashion and assumed I would be useless.
At the time the club was a mess.
Vicki Sparks commentates for BBC during the 2018 FIFA World Cup
The team had been relegated to the Conference league and the finances were a disaster, not least because there were minor accounting problems.
In my early days I was probably guilty of being a bit bullish as I tried to prove myself.
I would turn up for work looking like an extra from Dynasty in a 1980s-style power suit and giant heels. I didn’t hesitate to have a clear-out of staff because I wanted to have a fresh start with a new team.
Needless to say I didn’t get a warm reception. When we played away games I was an instant target for the fans because I was a woman and they would chant all manner of abuse at me.
Mansfield Town’s owner John Radford alongside wife and chief executive Carolyn Still
I didn’t just want to prove I could do the job, I felt I had to prove myself on behalf of all the women who might come into the industry.
Even at Mansfield I felt I had to work twice as hard as a man would have done for people to take me seriously. I didn’t just want to prove I could do the job, I felt I had to prove myself on behalf of all the women who might come into the industry.
But the longer I stayed in the job, the more people started to believe in me. In 2013 we were promoted to League Two and we narrowly missed the play-offs this year to be promoted again.
I’m confident that we’ll be promoted next season to League One.
Our finances have turned around. Now we’re breaking even and the ground is unrecognisable with a new bar, and a Hilton hotel on the way.
Since I became CEO a few more women have come into the industry
As time has gone on I’ve learnt I don’t need to put on a front to do my job. In fact I think sometimes football needs a woman’s more nurturing influence.
In a room full of men and testosterone, decisions can be made that are quite impulsive.
In my experience, women tend to be more cautious and think things through rationally. Women also tend to be good at managing relationships with people, which can be vital in football.
If a player on our team misses a goal or doesn’t perform as well as usual, it helps to understand how they feel and what’s going on underneath the surface.
Katrien Meire, chief executive of Sheffield Wednesday
Now I have no problem showing my feminine side and I’ve banished the trouser suits and shoulder pads in favour of floaty dresses.
Since I became CEO a few more women have come into the industry.
I’m good friends with Katrien Meire, who’s the chief executive of Sheffield Wednesday, and it’s nice to have a female ally among the hundreds of men. But I hope even more women come into the sport. I’d like to see women not only taking on boardroom roles but managing the men’s teams too.
There’s no reason a woman can’t do just as good a job as a man at managing a football team. I can see us having a female manager at Mansfield in future.
Ex footballer Jason Cundy
For a long time if someone said something unpleasant to me I wouldn’t bite back because I was worried I would upset someone.
But now if someone attempts to belittle me for being a woman in a male-dominated industry I will speak up because I know I am more than capable of doing my job.
While Jason’s comments reflect the outdated views of some men I have dealt with in football I have seen a wave of changing attitudes in the past year and very much hope this will continue.