During her stellar athletics career, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson won 16 Paralympics medals, held 30 world records and won the London Marathon six times. Since retiring she has held many prestigious positions including UNICEF Ambassador and Chancellor of Northumbria University. She has sat on the boards of Transport for London, the London Legacy Development Corporation, the Sportsaid Foundation, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and Join In. A crossbench peer since 2010, through Nurole she recently became vice-chair of the Commonwealth Sport Foundation.
What do you hope to bring to the Commonwealth Sport Foundation in your new role?
I have competed at three Commonwealth Games, so it’s really exciting that the Foundation is going to be building on the amazingly inclusive work that has been done there. Many athletes I know feel a sense of social responsibility and for me personally, I have benefitted from being an athlete in many different ways. The chance to provide new opportunities is exciting.
How important was London 2012 in changing the way that disability sport is seen?
The 2012 Paralympics was an amazing moment. I worked on the bid and then on the Games, and it was a special moment in time for the Paralympic movement and the UK. What was amazing was the number of people who came to watch.
It certainly changed many Paralympians’ lives, but there are wider issues around disability inclusion, employment and the pay gap that it’s not possible for the Games as a sporting event to address – but which the movement can start to change.
What is the key to a successful board meeting?
Good quality papers are the start, but also planning and preparation. It’s important to have a board that can ask challenging questions but also one that’s able to communicate with each other. I think it’s important that board members feel that they can ask whatever they want.
With the online platforms, I can be quite creative in terms of how I can meet regional teams and connect to people. But there is also a danger that we’re all constantly online and it’s too easy to go from meeting to meeting without taking the time to do the work that results from it.
As an experienced trustee, what advice would you give to someone who is taking on their first trustee role?
I have been on boards when I have had a connection to the area that the board works in and when I haven’t. It’s always important to spend time on the induction process and talking to people. Board packs can be a moment in time and when you first join a board it can take a while to settle in – giving yourself time to read and re-read them is important.
In the conversation around board diversity, how well is disability being represented and addressed?
Disabled people are not well represented on boards or in the workforce. The employment gap is double the national average and many companies do not measure the disability pay gap. These are things that must be discussed at board level and not put off, but I think that it's important to have the lived experience of disability and impairment at all levels in an organisation.
How severe are the challenges posed by COVID-19 to universities like Northumbria?
This is all such an unknown for us and organisations are having to make major adjustments based on advice that is changing regularly. The speed with which people have been able to move online has been impressive but there are challenges that come with that.
For example, spending many hours a day looking at a computer screen – what some people call working from home. I think calling it “living at work” is a closer explanation.
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