Women Working in Football - Queens Park Rangers HR Professional Carol Fleming (Part One)
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 clubs, the grassroots game and national and community-based football organisations.
In a 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 celebrate and gain an insight into their contributions to the professional game.
The feature discusses their experiences of the game, how they reached where they are today and any challenges they may have faced along the way.
For July, Kick It Out spoke to Carol Fleming, a Human Resources (HR) professional working at Queens Park Rangers, who gave an insight into her role, as well as reflecting on her path into football and challenging racism as a young person in the 1970s and 80s.
Carol Fleming didn’t always plan on working in HR, but she has no regrets about the career she pursued.
She explained: “It’s funny because I actually started off on the law path, but on a field trip to the local court for the day, I was in disagreement with one of the cases that was happening and I fell out of love with law as a result.
“I ended in what was known as a personnel role back in the early 90s and it progressed from there. I like helping people so HR was the next route into doing that in the workplace.”
With HR departments increasingly important in modern businesses, Carol offered an insight into the key qualities she believes are required to succeed in the role.
“I think the main skills are communication, empathy – which you need a lot of – problem-solving and listening,” she said. “Sometimes it’s about listening to what people are coming to you with and dissecting whether it’s really an issue they have or if they just need to have a moan.
“Being able to gauge which direction to send people and just being knowledgeable in my area of expertise is key. As a practitioner I also have to keep myself up-to-date with legislation and the internal policies and processes.”
As someone who has worked in HR for almost 20 years, with most of that time spent outside of football, has Carol noticed any differences in the work environment within the game?
“The football industry is certainly one like no other. There’s no real black and white, there’s a lot of grey areas, there’s a lot of having to negotiate, there’s a lot of hand-holding to be done. HR is still relatively new to the industry – 10 or 15 years – so some people are still coming round to the idea of having HR on board.
“Thankfully it didn’t take me too long to build relationships here because everyone is fantastic and very helpful – it’s very much a family-orientated club. Once I’d built those relationships and got people to understand that I’m here to help not to hinder, then it was a case of people started to warm to me and people started coming to me for advice.
She added: “Once I broke down that barrier that HR isn’t just about interfering, and policies and procedures and ramming stuff down your throat, I think the relationships have been really good. Whilst football is a totally different world, it is still about letting people know that you’re about wanting to help their progress.”
Although Carol’s move into football was more a chance decision rather than a result of any burning desire to work in the industry, she has been immersed in the game for most of her life. Her two sons are football fanatics and she regularly used to go and watch her brother play semi-professional football back in the 1970s.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that she has a keen awareness of racism in football and the challenges black players faced in years gone by.
“I was probably about seven or eight and just going to watch some of his games, hearing people chanting racist chants that were acceptable to other spectators – it was not nice to experience. My brother was of the mindsight that he didn’t care about what was happening on the terraces, his focus was on his football.
“I think a lot of BAME players who have experienced that were resilient in pursuit of their career – that’s not to say it gives them tunnel vision as to what’s going on around them, because I’m sure once they come off the field and reflect on what happened they were disgusted by what they heard and they were disgusted by the actions of the fans.”
Carol faced similar challenges tackling racism growing up but like her brother, was well-prepared to challenge it thanks to the support of her parents.
“Because of my family background – my parents are very strong-willed and strong-minded – they gave us the tools to get over those hurdles. It was just people’s ignorance of not realising we’re all human beings even through we’re people of colour.
“I think that’s how my parents taught us to be immune to it while also giving us the power and voice to speak out against it. So if someone was being racially abusive to us, you don’t just stand there and take it, you tell them that they’re being ignorant and you tell them that actually they need to think about their own mindset and how they’re treating people just because of the colour of their skin.”
In part two, Carol discusses the need for female role models in the football industry, encouraging more diversity in the game and Kick It Out’s role in promoting equality.