17 December 2021
The former chair of the Professional Footballers' Association, Ben Purkiss, says he joined Women in Football's #GetOnside campaign because of the "absolute need for diversity" in the game and hopes his participation will "make a positive impact".
After the campaign launched in September, Ben pledged to mentor young women seeking career pathways into the football industry. During his time with the PFA and at university, he says, he realised that a more equal game is a better game for all.
"There is real value that the men’s game could learn from the women’s game, and the women’s game could learn from the men’s game," he says, "and in the basic principles of equality and fairness, in getting the best people in the right roles, irrespective of where they come from or their backgrounds."
After his time as a player for Sheffield United reserves, Ben studied for a degree in law with French and says his learning helped his later career at the PFA, as his playing career continued with Walsall, Port Vale and Swindon Town. He now works as an employment lawyer in the City of London.
"Historically football, wrongly, has been viewed as a male game and a male pastime and a male sport," says Ben. "And with women at all levels, and girls in school historically, there are professional athletes who haven’t been provided with the same opportunities."
Although progress has been made – Ben points out the impending appointment of Debbie Hewitt MBE as chair of the FA, as well as women among the trustees and directors at the PFA – he says "it’s about continuing to push, continuing to drive, continuing to make sure that people are given equal opportunity and aren’t discriminated against, consciously or covertly, based on factors that bear no relevance to their ability to do their job – gender being one of them."
Specifically, Ben's mentoring pledge was borne out of an urge to redress the balance. "I think there’s a lot of different groups within football that have historically been represented and denied opportunities," he says. "And I think the talent is certainly out there. There is an absolute need for diversity, for different perspectives that will contribute to the success of the game as a whole."
And with his experience of the game at different levels and areas, Ben is well equipped to guide others into a career in football today.
"I’d like to think I’ve seen a full spectrum of challenges at a certain level," he says. "In terms of the pressure that people can face and sometimes people are questioning why I did certain things outside of football, as an example. And how I should concentrate on my football and how to deal with, I guess, the different pressures that come with trying to develop yourself professionally outside of football, but also focussing on your career and getting the best out of yourself."
Perhaps most interestingly of all, Ben is open to the mentoring process as a two-way exchange, where as well as offering the benefit of his experience, he too can learn from the different perspectives brought by his mentees.
He says: "A lot of things that Women in Football stand for are about leading positive change, and I think to be associated with that is a fantastic opportunity for me. And I’m sure that the people I will talk to and support will also challenge me and I will learn things about their careers and their perspectives that perhaps I haven’t experienced.
"So, I think, from my perspective, it’s great to be involved because I will be able to learn, but equally, the real driver is to try and join the bigger picture that Women in Football is looking to achieve, which is that positive change to ensure gender equality in the game. Which, in 2021, shouldn’t be a tough ask."
If you are interested in this opportunity please email email@example.com by Sunday 16 January with your cv and covering letter detailing why you would be a good fit for this mentoring pledge.
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