“Women’s football? We just play football”

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ABN AMRO has for several years now sponsored Ajax Women, both the first team and the talent team. The reason is simple: we believe that these outstanding sportswomen, whether playing for Ajax or for other clubs, enrich the football world and make it more inclusive. A challenge, however, is the huge gap between men and women players in terms of pay, exposure and opportunities. How are we dealing with that? And how does our bank score when it comes to equal opportunities?

Nicole Böttger is in charge of Diversity & Inclusion at ABN AMRO. Daphne Koster, who was 18 when she first wore the captain’s band for the Dutch national squad, is now Manager of Ajax Women. The two of them talk about equal opportunities and equal pay (or the journey towards that goal). This article is also appearing this week, in Dutch, in the new women’s monthly &C magazine (‘Wat schuift ’t’.. Interview: Zindzi Zevenbergen)

N: What changes have you seen in the football world since you became a part of it?

D: When I wanted to play football at the age of six, it was simply not done. Now people say: awesome! So perceptions have radically changed compared with thirty years ago.

N: Times were certainly different. Back then, ABN AMRO was managed by one hundred white males.

D: What’s the gender balance now?

N: Almost 60 to 40. But equality is about more than gender. We’re also focused on better representation of the LGBT+ community and on more cultural diversity. Meanwhile, we also help refugees and people with disabilities find jobs. At our offices, for example, we employ deaf and hearing-impaired baristas. You give them your order in sign language, following instructions you get from a touchscreen.

D: Wow, that’s cool. Your environment should never determine what’s ‘normal’.

N: How can you contribute through Ajax?

D: Well, to start with, let’s stop calling what we do “women’s football”. We just play football. Or look at our youth players, who attend our own Ajax school. It was an all-boys school, and that’s not a very good learning environment. You need to include girls to get a proper balance. I was responsible for getting the school to accept girls. The teachers were cheering!

N: I can imagine! The Social and Economic Council has just published a recommendation about boardroom diversity and they confirm: it all begins at school. Give children equal opportunities. At ABN AMRO we need to ask ourselves: are our products and services inclusive? We found out that female entrepreneurs had a harder time getting a loan, because, without us realising, they were judged differently. We now train our employees to recognise subconscious prejudice.

D: And what about pay? The work is the same, whether you’re a man or a woman.

N: Of course men and women should get equal pay. In everyday reality, however, it turns out to be complicated. So now we’re finetuning in a number of areas at once: we’re offering development training to female colleagues and trying to raise awareness among managers. So what about salaries for football players? Do you think men and women in football should get equal pay?

D: No, I think it’s far more important to give girls the same opportunities from a very young age. Ultimately, that will lead to equal pay. When women’s football starts attracting the same kind of attention and attendance figures, it’ll be a different story. In our fan shop, this is the first year that we have pictures of both our men and our women players on the walls.

N: How are other clubs tackling this?

D: Some of them are doing nothing at all, and others are doing quite a lot. In the Netherlands, Ajax is very much a trend setter. We recently introduced a collective labour agreement for our women players. Before that, they weren’t even guaranteed sick pay if they were injured. I think that Ajax is pretty tuned in to what’s going on in society. And we have sponsors who support our mission. That’s why ABN AMRO is important to us.

N: That makes me proud! We’re fighting for equal opportunities within the bank, but we want to take it further, too. Were you able to make a living with football when you were still a player?

D: Yes, but I was about the only woman here who could. It depended on whether you also played for the national team. A lot of my teammates had a side job. These days, all Ajax players can focus entirely on their sports careers.

N: Those are major steps in the right direction. Sadly, in the banking world, my job as a diversity & inclusion manager is still all too necessary. In a couple of years, I hope diversity won’t be a topic we need to discuss any more.

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