LTA ac­cused over ‘old boys club’ cul­ture

Chau­vin­ism al­le­ga­tions and mul­ti­ple se­nior women leave In­ves­ti­ga­tion spoke to more than a dozen for­mer em­ploy­ees

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Si­mon Briggs ten­nis cor­re­spon­dent

The Lawn Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion has been hit by a spate of de­par­tures among se­nior women, as an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The Daily Tele­graph re­veals long-stand­ing al­le­ga­tions of chau­vin­ism at the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Af­ter speak­ing to more than a dozen for­mer em­ploy­ees, The Tele­graph has found a wide­spread per­cep­tion of an “old boys’ club” at the top of the LTA. Since Scott Lloyd took over as chief ex­ec­u­tive at the start of 2018, he has dou­bled the num­ber of women on the eight­strong ex­ec­u­tive – but only from one to two.

In­ter­vie­wees spoke of a cul­ture in which those who raised griev­ances felt that they were treated as trou­ble-mak­ers as a re­sult. One such case was brought to The

Tele­graph by for­mer po­lice­woman “Ni­cola”, a keen ten­nis player who was of­ten on the courts at the Na­tional Ten­nis Cen­tre be­fore of­fice hours.

Ni­cola com­plained to hu­man re­sources last year af­ter the same male mem­ber of staff walked into the ladies’ chang­ing room twice when she was in­side. In Novem­ber, she was made re­dun­dant from the LTA’s safe­guard­ing team.

“I wasn’t happy with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion the LTA car­ried out af­ter I com­plained to HR about a staff mem­ber,” Ni­cola said. “And hav­ing worked in the po­lice, I have an un­der­stand­ing of what this sort of in­ves­ti­ga­tion should look like. They then told me that they wanted to re­place my role with a man­ager, even though they al­ready had two man­agers in what was a rel­a­tively small team. I feel very strongly that my departure was linked to the fact that I spoke out.”

The Tele­graph has seen in­ter­nal emails ob­tained un­der a sub­ject ac­cess re­quest by Ni­cola, re­veal­ing con­cern within the LTA about how her departure might play out. One staff mem­ber sent an email to the HR di­rec­tor en­ti­tled “Re: Hid­den Rea­sons Be­hind a Dis­missal De­ci­sion.” It re­ferred to the case of a Royal Mail em­ployee whose whistle­blow­ing had been found by a court to be the real, un­ac­knowl­edged ex­pla­na­tion be­hind her dis­missal.

When this was put to the LTA, it told The Tele­graph: “We wouldn’t com­ment on in­di­vid­ual staff mat­ters, but any complaints an in­di­vid­ual made would be in­ves­ti­gated, and would have ab­so­lutely no bear­ing on an en­tirely sep­a­rate team re­struc­ture process.”

Ni­cola was far from the only em­ployee to com­plain that HR had not sup­ported her as she had hoped. Nine other women shared their sto­ries, although none was pre­pared to ap­pear un­der her own name.

“The LTA has pow­er­ful con­nec­tions,” said one, “and I can­not risk re­tal­i­a­tion.” An­other said: “I am

con­cerned the LTA might try to take le­gal ac­tion against me or dam­age my rep­u­ta­tion.” A third said: “It’s a small world and I don’t want reper­cus­sions when I go back into it.”

There were still more cur­rent em­ploy­ees who wanted to par­tic­i­pate in this in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but were too con­cerned of pos­si­ble reprisals to do so.

In one in­ter­view, “Sarah” told The Tele­graph that she had left af­ter feel­ing un­sup­ported when her re­quest for dis­abil­ity in­clu­sion was re­peat­edly ig­nored. In her res­ig­na­tion let­ter, she told bosses that her ex­pe­ri­ences at the LTA had af­fected her well-be­ing.

In an­other in­ter­view, “Su­san” said she had suf­fered from the stress of deal­ing with un­co­op­er­a­tive male col­leagues, who even­tu­ally pushed her to the point of break­down.

“To­wards the end of me be­ing there, I was pretty much cry­ing every other day in the store­room,” she said. “My ex­pe­ri­ence was that if you com­plained, you were the one that was in the spot­light, you were the one picked apart, the one crit­i­cised, the one who had to change. If you didn’t, you left.”

These is­sues were not new to the Lloyd regime, and can be traced back sev­eral years. Ac­cord­ing to Pa­trick Smith, who worked un­der Michael Downey as a mem­ber of the Strate­gic Projects team, they were also part of the make-up of his time at the LTA.

“There was a lack of women,” Smith said, “par­tic­u­larly in lead­er­ship roles, and the other thing I no­ticed was the mas­sive lack of a ca­reer pro­gres­sion plan. This ap­plied to both gen­ders, but seems to be par­tic­u­larly strong for women.”

Smith re­ferred specif­i­cally to a fe­male col­league whom he felt had been passed over for pro­mo­tions. That col­league, whom we will call “Jane”, fi­nally left the or­gan­i­sa­tion last year. She told The Tele­graph: “I wanted to progress at the LTA, but my boss seemed to feel threat­ened by an am­bi­tious woman. It was not a nice ex­pe­ri­ence. I try not to look back on it. It was a shame that one per­son, and a lack of sup­port from HR, ended up mak­ing me leave.”

An­other em­ployee from the Downey pe­riod, “Alice”, claimed that she had been used as an un­of­fi­cial coun­sel­lor by other women in the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“I had be­tween 10 and 20 women talk­ing to me about their ex­pe­ri­ences and the state of their men­tal health,” Alice said. “They didn’t want to go to HR. So when an ex-col­league told me about the man­ner of Ni­cola’s departure, I was re­ally sad. I thought things had changed, but her ex­pe­ri­ence sug­gested oth­er­wise.

“I felt I was treated differentl­y be­cause I was a woman,” Alice con­tin­ued, “and my own men­tal health was suf­fer­ing as a re­sult. I am fairly sure I would have been bet­ter sup­ported and re­spected if I had been a man – par­tic­u­larly a white, mid­dle­class man. I am tired of hear­ing, see­ing and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion in the work­place and be­lieve that the LTA, like other or­gan­i­sa­tions, has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to both their em­ploy­ees and the wider pub­lic who love ten­nis.

“Most peo­ple think gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion comes from men, but I would also sug­gest that, in my ex­pe­ri­ence of the LTA, women en­gaged in dis­crim­i­na­tion against other women.”

When these claims were put to the LTA, it replied: “We don’t recog­nise the char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion that there is a dif­fer­ence in the way women and men are treated within the LTA. We pride our­selves on hav­ing an open and in­clu­sive cul­ture that val­ues every­one equally.

“Ten­nis is one of the most gen­der-bal­anced sports and we strive to achieve equal­ity both on and off court in every­thing we do. Since Scott Lloyd be­came chief ex­ec­u­tive, the per­cent­age of fe­male em­ploy­ees sits at 45 per cent; the LTA board has in­creased fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion to 50 per cent; the gen­der pay gap has im­proved year on year; and the LTA has received no for­mal complaints about gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion from cur­rent or for­mer em­ploy­ees.

“Nev­er­the­less, we are keen to carry on im­prov­ing fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion through­out the or­gan­i­sa­tion, and in the last 18 months there have been 20 women pro­moted com­pared to 12 men, while 75 per cent of those on our Lead­er­ship Ac­cel­er­a­tor Pro­gramme are women. We will con­tinue to do all we can to make the LTA an open and wel­com­ing place for any­body to work in.”

While the above fig­ures look en­cour­ag­ing, pub­licly filed data shows that the LTA’s per­cent­age of fe­male em­ploy­ees fell be­tween 2017 and 2019, from 49 to 45 per cent. The per­cent­age of women in the up­per quar­tile of earn­ers fell from 34 to 30 per cent.

There were signs of im­prove­ment when Julie Porter – who had pre­vi­ously worked with Lloyd at David Lloyd Leisure – was ap­pointed chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the LTA in May 2018.

Porter thus be­came the most in­flu­en­tial woman in the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s his­tory. Yet while her ap­point­ment may have slightly im­proved the gen­der bal­ance on the ex­ec­u­tive, it did not trans­late into a boost for women through­out the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Com­ment­ing gen­er­ally on the of­fice cul­ture, one male em­ployee who left the LTA dur­ing this pe­riod, said: “My ex­pe­ri­ence was that women were reg­u­larly cut out of the con­ver­sa­tion by be­ing talked over and ig­nored in meet­ings.”

Four fe­male heads of depart­ment have left since Novem­ber 2018, soon fol­lowed by the di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, who had been a mem­ber of the ex­ec­u­tive team. She left while on com­pas­sion­ate leave to look af­ter her young son, who had re­cently de­vel­oped cancer.

Four of these five women are be­lieved to have signed nondis­clo­sure agree­ments in ex­change for com­pen­sa­tion pack­ages, and all de­clined to com­ment.

The LTA ac­counts for 2018 record an ex­pen­di­ture of £1,862,000 on “ex­cep­tional items”. These are

‘To­wards the end of me be­ing there, I was cry­ing every other day in the store­room’

de­scribed in the ac­com­pa­ny­ing text as “costs linked to an in­ter­nal re­or­gan­i­sa­tion to sup­port the new strat­egy”. When an­other £207,000 was spent on “ex­cep­tional items” in 2019, the to­tal ex­pen­di­ture listed un­der this head­ing climbed past £2mil­lion in two years.

When asked how much of this sum had been spent on com­pro­mise departure agree­ments, an LTA

spokesman replied: “It is cov­ered by strict con­fi­den­tial­ity clauses so I can’t give you any fig­ures, but it would be com­pletely wrong to sug­gest this ex­cep­tional ex­pen­di­ture line in the ac­counts would re­fer fully or largely to any en­hanced pay­ments to for­mer em­ploy­ees.

“These would have made up an ex­tremely small pro­por­tion of the to­tal ex­pen­di­ture, for a very small num­ber of peo­ple. The bulk of the fig­ure is made up by typ­i­cal em­ploy­ment costs for the re­struc­ture, and standard ways of end­ing em­ploy­ment.”

As part of last year’s LTA re­brand­ing ex­er­cise – which was en­ti­tled “Ten­nis Opened Up” – Lloyd promised that “we want to break down bar­ri­ers and change per­cep­tions so that ten­nis in Bri­tain is truly seen as a sport for all”.

Yet while the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s gen­der pol­i­tics re­main ques­tion­able, and when mul­ti­ple pay­outs have been handed to de­part­ing staff to se­cure con­fi­den­tial­ity and in some cases in ex­change for waiv­ing em­ploy­ment rights, Lloyd’s regime is yet to demon­strate it is any more en­light­ened than its pre­de­ces­sors.

Un­der fire: The LTA head­quar­ters at the Na­tional Ten­nis Cen­tre in Roe­hamp­ton

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