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Women's programme invests in the future

The UEFA Women in Football Leadership Programme is accelerating a development process which will bring more women into senior positions in European football.

Empowering women the focus in Nyon
Empowering women the focus in Nyon

Participants in this week's UEFA Women in Football Leadership Programme (WFLP) seminar will go away from Nyon buoyed by a wealth of expert advice and encouragement that will motivate them to pursue their dream of a senior career in European football.

UEFA has understood the need to speed up a development process which will bring more women into senior positions in European football – increasing opportunities and changing perspectives within the game. UEFA has taken an innovative step in introducing the WFLP programme, which is designed to identify potential women leaders, and to equip them with the requisite skills. Through the programme, women already in leadership positions are also being offered additional support in their roles.

Seminar particpants have been given coaching and guidance on the personal and professional qualities needed for management positions – leadership skills, self-awareness, networking, coaching and team-oriented ability, and the ability to influence and make an impact. Key contributors to the WFLP course are delighted to be involved, and are imparting invaluable wisdom into the bargain.

"It's really wonderful being with women who are highly motivated to work on their development, to be with women who are very open, very open-minded," says Ginka Toegel, a professor at the Lausanne-based IMD Business School, which is partnering UEFA by giving its expertise in executive development to the WFLP. "And also women who are extremely responsive when it comes to actions, in terms of their development."

The often unique characteristics that women bring to management have been highlighted at the seminar, and Toegel has been impressed with the openness and honesty of the discussions. "What always strikes me when I work with women executives and women leaders is how quickly they open up, how quickly they are ready to disclose. And talk about their weaknesses, put on the table all of the problems that they have."

UEFA has been praised for recognising and accepting that football cannot be a male-dominated domain. Recent developments, for example, have seen the much-respected Norwegian football administrator Karen Espelund become the first-ever female member of the UEFA Executive Committee. Speakers at the seminar have highlighted that women bring their own special, different qualities when they join executive boards and take part in management and decision-making processes.

"I think the most important thing is that UEFA takes the leadership, because there is room to make up for," says Viviane Reding, a member of the European Parliament and former European Commission vice-president, who gave an impassioned motivational speech to the WFLP seminar participants and UEFA staff at the House of European Football on Tuesday. "You also need to have – besides the men – women in leadership in [football] organisation and women need to [take] courage to do that, because it is still a very male environment."

The WFLP programme is proving to be a sound investment in the future, as it is focused not only on working towards the equality and integration that are essential to the development of the football workforce, but also giving the tools to implement them. Men and women leaders from inside and outside football are also taking part in the programme in a mentor role – giving crucial advice and exchanging experiences with participants along their development path.

"I think there are a couple of messages that I think we can take away," said IMD Business School professor Jim Pulcrano in summing up the lessons that WFLP participants should absorb from their week in Nyon. "One is to believe in yourself: let your confidence, your energy, your love of football shine through. Don't hide it. The next part of it is about connecting with the others in this programme. Connect with the leaders that you've met [here]. Create a very strong network. Build the network and then use [it]." UEFA hopes to see further fruits from its pioneering programme in the not-too-distant future – with more women appearing at the forefront of the drive to take European football into a bright tomorrow.