18 March 2024


Words: Caitlin Hamill | Photography: Mariella Prew/Matthew Dickens/Sportsbeat

View the full agenda of Be Inspired 2024

Fresh from an exciting first day, the delegates arrived at Wembley to take on day 2 of the Women in Football Be Inspired Conference in partnership with Barclays, feeling empowered from an amazing set of speakers. Women in Football Chair Ebru Köksal took to the stage to get the day started. 

“I don’t know if it is just me,” she said, “but I feel like I could run a hundred miles after yesterday, I feel so energised.” Ebru promised the delegates that Be Inspired is a safe place, and she challenged everybody in the room to network with five new people throughout the day. 

She thanked yesterday’s keynote speaker Emma Hayes OBE and praised her vulnerability, as the delegates got to meet the more personal side of Emma. “How amazing was it to meet Emma yesterday? Not Emma Hayes, just Emma… she trusted all of us in here.”

Ebru closed her speech by thanking sponsors Barclays and the amazing team at WIF, before introducing freelance sports presenter and host for the day Karthi Gnanasegaram.

Rt Hon Stuart Andrew MP was up next to speak about the government’s commitment to supporting women’s sport, pledging £600million to school sports and £300million in grassroots football, as well as the Lionesses fund, which aims to create 30 state-of-the-art pitches for women in sport. 


David Dein MBE in conversation with Kelly Cates

Sky Sports presenter Kelly Cates sat down to talk with former Vice Chairman of Arsenal and the FA David Dein. David played an important role in the founding of the Arsenal women’s team; he spoke about women wanting to play football in the late 1990s and his part in creating the team we all know and love now.

“I went to propose a women’s team, and at the time the board thought it was a publicity stunt! I said no, this is for real. 

“We used to play at Britannia leisure centre. If we were lucky, we would get a dozen spectators, they’d just be the girls’ parents. Now when you think they had 60,000 people at Arsenal v Tottenham, you realise how much of a way we’ve come. I’m so proud of being a part of this amazing project.”

David talked about the rapid growth of women’s football, and how the game has more interest now than ever before. He spoke about how the Lionesses winning the UEFA Women’s Euros in 2022 turned the lights on for the game.

“You can see how the game is going. When people talk about the women's game, I always say the train has left the station and it’s gathering speed, so jump on it.” 

He also warned clubs that they must have their own women’s teams, or they will be at risk of getting left behind. 

David mentioned his charity The Twinning Project, founded back in 2018, which gives prisoners the chance to earn a coaching qualification from a local coach. The charity has found that the scheme reduces reoffending and saves lives. 


Governing The Game: The urgent need for reform

This eye-opening panel, led by Onside Law Director Harriet Leach, discussed the need for change in football to be driven from boardroom level and the proposals put forward in Women in Football’s Open Doors Agenda after the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

The observations of UEFA Vice President Laura McAllister CBE were particularly interesting, as she urged a patient, pragmatic approach to the fight for equality. “There were federations that insisted [Luis] Rubiales had done nothing wrong,” she pointed out. “The equality agenda has not achieved the same level of progress everywhere.

“From 2025 there will be two women on ExCo – you could say it’s still ridiculously low, but it’s double what there is now. Change won’t be super-fast. We have to persuade the most senior people in UEFA to come on the journey with us... if we go in all guns blazing then we’ll achieve nothing.”


Photography: Matthew Dickens/Sportsbeat

So You Want To Be a Football Journalist?

Hosted by Faye Carruthers, Carrie Brown, Karthi Gnanasegaram, Charlotte Marsh and Kelly Cates sat down in The Arc to share their pathways into football journalism and exchange stories.

Carrie opened up about the struggles of body image and shared that she once didn’t go for an interview at Sky Sports because she wanted to lose 10 pounds – “but it turns out I was in the best shape of my life. Don’t let your insecurities stop you going for a job,” she urged. “Every single job that a man has is yours to get.”

Charlotte spoke about the lack of representation in match reporting she’s experienced during her time as a football writer. “In press rooms you can count the amount of women in the room on one hand, and we need to change that.”

The women on the panel had often received comments on their appearance at work, one being told that she would have to get rid of their fringe, while another was asked “how are we going to dress you?”

“It should be about your credibility and your knowledge, not how you look,” said Faye. 

Kelly mentioned how she was the first woman to feature on talkSPORT, and she never even knew. She offered some wise words of advice for the delegates:

  • turn up
  • work hard
  • be there on time
  • be personable
  • be enthusiastic

“The word ‘no’ is a complete sentence... but don’t say no too much!”


Rising Stars: Celebrating early career success stories

An exciting panel hosted by Anne-Marie Batson celebrated the success of younger women with big reputations in football. 

“When I was on my degree, I was the only girl. I took an opportunity for an unpaid role in comms aimed at all the boys on the course. When I interviewed and got the role, I had some good male allies, and it counteracted the treatment I got during my degree, and thankfully I didn’t lose hope.”
­– Rebecca James, Director at Limitless Sports Consultancy 

“Have intent with everything you do and don’t be afraid to speak up for what you want. Everyone is busy and won’t notice that you are neglected – it’s on you to put yourself out there.”
– Maria Xing, Investment Professional, 777 Partners


Growing the Women’s Game – What’s Next?

As the Barclays Women’s Super League and Championship prepare to break away from the FA, CEO Nikki Doucet shared some insight on NewCo’s aims for the 2024-25 season. 

“NewCo needs to build the most competitive competition in the world,” she said, “where our top teams are European champions every year. We have to get the international match calendar right... The players are screaming that the calendar is killing them.

“But the biggest thing is we need investment. They have to buy their own boots and they play in the WSL. We are determined to find a structure that works towards that.”

Founder of London City Lionesses Diane Culligan spoke about her acquisition of the club through her love of grassroots football. When talking about what needs to grow in the women’s game, she said: “We need to make sure that the gap between the top of the Championship and the bottom of the WSL is closer.”

Victoire H Cogevina Reynal, who leads the Mercury/13 multi-club ownership group, spoke about the financial challenges that clubs and players face in comparison to the men’s game. 

“In the men’s game broadcasting revenue is enormous,” she said, “but in the women’s game, it is not… right now, a lot of women make more money off the pitch than on the pitch.

“Angel City had tens of millions of sponsorship dollars without having played a single game. If you show brands what you’re building, they will want to be a part of it.”


Entrepreneurial Women: Innovation and football business

This incredible panel featured Kate Hamer, Bex Smith, and Laura Youngson, highlighting some of the fantastic work taking place in the Women in Football Entrepreneur Mentorship Programme powered by Xero

Their advice was to network, to take any opportunity you can, and hustle: “Once you kick through those doors I think part of the goal is to bring people through the door with you.”


Everyone’s Game: Ensuring equality in football

During this panel, the speakers talked about loving sport, but feeling like it doesn’t love them back. 

Nate Williams, Chair of The Ability Group in Sport (TAGS), said: “Great women football reporters are here but they don’t just have to report on women’s football, and the same applies to disabled people in sports media. Paralympic year is seen as ‘our year’.

“Now we’ve formed the Diversity Sport Alliance, we’ve got a more intersectional approach. I want to see daily diversity – not just waiting until March to celebrate women,” for which he received a round of applause.

“Sometimes the trailblazers get tired. If you’re not fighting the fight for you, how can you fight it for someone else?”

Photography: Matthew Dickens/Sportsbeat

Media, Tech and the Football Business: Rebooting your career

This informative panel highlighted the lack of women working in the sport tech industry. “I don’t want women to be put off by the words ‘analytics’ or ‘tech’,” said Tina Keech of Sports Interactive. “If you love football you can come and help these companies. We lack women’s football experts.”

WIF Director Preeti Shetty highlighted that because of the lack of women in tech, it is being designed and built by men. “For example, think of AI. Or when you Google ‘CEO dress code’, it comes up with white males in suits,” she said. 


Women in The Men’s Game: The trailblazers leading the way

Advice was at the heart of this wholesome panel, and they had heaps to share. Here are some of the key takeaways from Lydia Bedford, Rachel Brown-Finnis, Jennifer Mildenhall and Juliet Slot.

  • Back yourself and just ask
  • Try loads of different things
  • Reflecting on a situation is OK, but don’t harbour negativity and resentment
  • You must be authentic to yourself
  • Control the controllables; don’t waste your energy on things you can’t change
  • In a management role, don’t feel bad for being vulnerable and not knowing everything
  • Build a network: “I’ve found any job that I have loved through networking”
  • “Don’t walk into an investment pitch thinking I’m a woman pitching to a load of blokes – if you’ve got something to say, say it in a confident way... walk in there focused on what your message is, not on your sex” 
  • Appreciate that sometimes you must be patient to get you to where you want to be
  • People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care


Jill Scott MBE in conversation with Karthi Gnanasegaram

The keynote speaker for day 2 offered lots of laughs and an insight into her successful career as she sat down with Karthi.

“My last couple of years, I had some good moments in football and some bad – winning the EUROs, you know. I remember Keira Walsh said to me ‘you’ll be retiring’ and I thought God, I better now. Not a lot of people get the perfect ending, especially in sport, so how can I not look back and smile.

“When you’re seeing 50,000 at football matches that’s amazing. It used to be 150 and you’d recognise them because they were family. We used to train on a pitch with no lights, no toilets but I still loved it. I just loved being part of a team.”

“Professional contracts made such a huge difference to us. I was able to live and eat better. I was always ill because I lived off Dairylea Lunchables! It meant I didn’t have to travel 176 miles to coach on the side and I could look after my nutrition better. It’s what we always wanted, to be professional athletes.

“When you are doing punditry there is always negative feedback…I feel like I have to feel uncomfortable to feel comfortable... It’s OK to feel uncomfortable – it can give you anxiety, but you could end up as this person who always sits in the corner and thinks ‘I wonder if I could do that?’

“Social media makes us laugh – nobody comes up to me face to face and says the things I can see when I log on to the computer… Lots of people say ‘women shouldn’t be doing this, women shouldn’t be doing that,’ but there’s more people talking about what women should be doing and we should be focusing on that.”


What can we take from #WIFBeInspired?

Yvonne Harrison, CEO of Women in Football, took to the stage to round off an amazing couple of days. She highlighted that we have got to turn the conversation around misogyny into action.

The key takeaways? Pick your battles and have that bravery and courage. Think about your tactics – it's not always that straight line from A to B, said Yvonne: we’ve got to think long term. “We’re trying to change a whole system, from start to finish. There's no quick fix but we can make progress – and we are.”


Caitlin Hamill is an emerging sports journalist based in London and wrote this feature as a Women in Football volunteer. Please see Caitlin's LinkedIn profile to find out more and connect.

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