LTA accused over ‘old boys club’ culture
Chauvinism allegations and multiple senior women leave Investigation spoke to more than a dozen former employees
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