International Women's Day - Women Working in Football - Football Foundation's Preeti Shetty
Whilst coverage of women’s football has increased in recent years, what often goes unnoticed are the hundreds of women who play a vital role in the day-to-day functions of professional and grassroots clubs and organisations.
In a new feature series, Kick It Out has been speaking to women who work within football – in a number of roles including coaching, club executives, photographers, administrators, matchday staff and more – to gain an insight into their contributions to the professional game.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, the organisation has spoken to four women from across the game – Ffion Eade, Preeti Shetty, Sue Prior and Susan Patterson-Smith – to discuss their role in football, how they reached where they are today and any challenges they may have faced along the way.
The second interview saw Kick It Out speak to Preeti Shetty, Head of Operations at Upshot at the Football Foundation, who discussed how sport helped her bond with her father and the need for better guidance for young women breaking into the football industry.
Whilst playing football was never Preeti Shetty’s strong point, she was always a passionate spectator, she explained.
“My dad was a big sports fan and it would always been on TV in the background. He was a very quiet man which meant there weren’t very many things we could talk to each other about, so we talked about education, being responsible and sport.”
Born and raised in Dubai, sport became an even more important factor in Preeti’s relationship with her father once she moved to the UK to study at the age of 17.
“We would talk once a week and sport was the glue that kept us together – we might have been in different countries but we were watching the same game. I think there’s lots of people who have that with their parents or siblings. It kept us connected, I found myself watching things that I’d knew he would watch so we’d have something to talk about on the weekend!”
Initially attracted to working in TV production, Preeti managed to secure a job at BBC Sport on a project called Your Game. Her role saw her travelling across the UK to run football, music and media festivals which aimed to get young people not in education, employment or training back on a pathway to a career.
“I loved it. It was my first taste of sport outreach – seeing the power it has to really inspire people. It’s not the side of sport that people traditionally know about, it’s not about being good at sport. It was about using the sport to deal with another social issue.
“The more I got to know the sector, the more I found out about these amazing organisations that are really trying to change things and I realised I didn’t want to do anything else.”
Fast forward 10 years with jobs at Kick4Life F.C., Streets United and Back in Football along the way, Preeti is now Head of Operations at Upshot, which is the in-house monitoring and evaluation system of the Football Foundation, a charity which directs more than £30m of funding from the Premier League, The FA and the Government – through Sport England – into grassroots sport every year.
She gave an insight into why the Foundation launched Upshot.
“We used to get reports saying ‘we’ve engaged with 5,000 young people this year’. We knew it was making a difference, but the impact wasn’t really measurable because it’s not a number, it’s people’s feelings and perceptions. So how could we measure some of that?
“So in 2009, the Foundation decided to begin building Upshot, which is cloud-based technology that would help us measure the impact of the money we give away. We use it to report it back to our own funders, but also to know whether we’re being effective and to make sure it’s going to the right places.”
Having worked as Senior Consultant at Upshot for almost three years, Preeti was delighted to be put in charge. The promotion capped off a wonderful year, after she was named as one of the Sport Industry’s Next Gen Leaders for 2016.
“It was a proud moment for me in terms of being recognised for things I have done, but I think I was prouder because it was giving recognition to Upshot and the work we do, and the charity side of sport more broadly, which very rarely gets recognised.”
Despite her success, Preeti admitted that in the formative years of her career in a male-dominated football industry, she faced challenges in establishing her credibility.
“There have been moments that have been difficult – mostly it’s being young, it’s being a woman, it’s not being from here – all of those things contribute to people maybe not taking you as seriously. Particularly early on in my career, I did feel like there were moments where I had to prove myself when I walked into a meeting room, which is not something others have to do naturally.
“But I have been lucky because I’ve had the support of some exceptional men, which I think is really important for women in sport going forward. Every single one of my bosses has helped and supported me and lifted me up.”
However, Preeti emphasised that the encouragement of men in senior positions is not enough to diversify football’s workforce – she believes more needs to be done to raise the profile of women making strides in the industry.
“Having role models is key – you don’t see that many successful women, and in particular BAME women, in positions of power. We are seeing it with athletes, but we’re not seeing it at board level.
“Young women growing up look at people above them so it’s about celebrating what some of these women are doing that is really extraordinary. The industry is changing and it’s an exciting time to be part of a movement like this.”
She argued that whilst International Women’s Day was useful in highlighting women’s success around the world, it was important that that the media “delve a little deeper and not go for the easy story.”
Preeti explained: “I don’t think we need to have a particular day but at the same time, if it means we’re all making a concentrated effort from a media awareness standpoint, I think that’s great.
“The media tend to go for the obvious stories, which are important and they should still be celebrated, but there are so many people behind-the-scenes, everyday people who we wouldn’t function without and we don’t even think about them.”