Lessons from a Lioness: Elevating and empowering female talent at MSQ

When it comes to recent English national achievements, few have united the nation as much as the England Lionesses’ victory in the Euro 2022 championships last year. It isn’t an exaggeration to say it fundamentally changed the attitudes of thousands of aspiring youngsters in a way very few moments in life can.

So, as we at MSQ launch WSQ, a Women’s Network dedicated to empowering and elevating female talent across all our agencies, who better to welcome to our Bow Street HQ than Kay Cossington, the FA’s Women’s Technical Director?

Kay dropped by the office to tell her story of establishing the Women’s Technical division and how a refocused strategy led the England Women’s Team to victory on that Wembley Summer’s Day. It was an unforgettable talk for all the inspiring reasons you’d expect – Kay’s opening film alone recalling the Lionesses’ journey sparked mass audience goosebumps – but it was also packed with key takeaways that we can apply to our own work journeys too.

For me, the most important message from Kay was the unwavering requirement to lift women as high as possible at every possible instance. This was how the FA shaped their approach: by treating the women’s game as one that needs its own strategy, own values and own route to success.  

For Kay, that meant tackling a number of big issues, not least around accessibility. Just look at the numbers: there are over 1.3 million male players in the professional footballing world compared to the 200,000 female players of all ages. When Kay took charge, there simply weren’t enough training grounds for emerging talent to train regularly. Many parts of the country had next to no facilities at all.

That needed to be rectified. Dedicated training camps have been put in place and Emerging Talent Centres are being established all around the country with the intention for players to be able to train locally, meaning more diverse teams with improved access from traditionally under-represented communities.

But dedicated facilities were just the start. Every area of the FA’s strategy needed specialised thinking to empower the Women’s game. Kay stressed that she couldn’t just copy and paste strategies from the men’s teams or any other institution; each individual player within her team needed to be treated as such. This would allow everyone to excel on their own pathway, fuelled by their passion and determination, with that passion and determination becoming stronger with appropriate support.

It’s a strategy that led the Lionesses to victory, and one we could learn a thing or two about from a workplace perspective.In the workplace, it has been shown that women are leaving business in the highest numbers in years. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider that research shows women still typically carry a heavier “mental load” (the invisible labour involved in managing a household and family). And whilst many couples aim to split their responsibilities 50:50, for various structural and socio-economic reasons, tasks often end up being allocated along typical gendered lines. 

So like the Lionesses, we need to remember that there isn’t only one way to tackle things. Women need to be seen as women – they go through menstrual cycles, hormone changes, conception, maternity leave, parenting, and caring responsibilities, menopause and other personal challenges to their working life, in ways that men don’t. And the very best businesses and organisations – like the Lionesses – implement strategies to support these.

We would all benefit from women’s challenges to be talked about, destigmatised, and met with solutions in the same way inclusivity in the industry needs to be, to make sure we continue to nurture and grow talent and the support the next generation of leaders.

Groups like WSQ are crucial to support women, because it’s our responsibility as a workplace to ensure that all our employees can bring their best selves to work. Kay’s talk was the first of many events by WSQ that will run alongside mentoring programmes and other initiatives for the women of MSQ, designed to make such a difference.

So whilst at MSQ we were all proud to see the Lionesses unite the nation and see a squad of brilliant players achieve their dream, it also made us proud to see just how women can excel when there are clear strategies in place. These are exactly the levels we’re hopeful of seeing in the future of the industry with groups like WSQ.

Vicky Janaway is the Chief Client Officer of The Gate, and a member of the MSQ DEI Council