The Game Changers

Preeti Shetty: How sport impacts positive social change

June 13, 2023 Sue Anstiss Season 14 Episode 3
The Game Changers
Preeti Shetty: How sport impacts positive social change
Show Notes Transcript

This is an utterly fascinating conversation with Preeti Shetty, a hugely well-respected figure in sport, particularly in the area of sport for positive social change. 

CEO and founder of Upshot, Preeti is also a Board Director of Brentford Football Club, the Vice Chair of Street Child United, a Director of London Sport and sits on Women in Football’s Board committee.

As the head of Upshot, Preeti focuses her efforts on proving the difference non-profits can makes to people's lives and communities through impact measurement and evaluation.

Having grown up in Dubai, before moving the UK to work at the BBC, Preeti shares how she discovered the power of sport to change the world.

We explore her work at the Football Foundation and the challenges she faced as a woman of colour seeking to gain investment to buy Upshot from her employer.

Having been spat at on her first visit to watch a Premier League Football match at Milwall, she could understandably have walked away from the sport, yet she now sits as a Board Director of Brentford FC.

It’s little wonder that Preeti is so respected and admired in the sports industry.
Thank you to Sport England who support The Games Changers Podcast with a National Lottery grant.

Thank you to Sport England who support The Game Changers Podcast with a National Lottery award.

Find out more about The Game Changers podcast here: https://www.fearlesswomen.co.uk/thegamechangers

Hosted by Sue Anstiss
Produced by Sam Walker, What Goes On Media

A Fearless Women production

Preeti Shetty: The Impact of Sport for Social Change 

 Sue Anstiss 

Hello and welcome to The Game Changers. I'm Sue Anstiss and this is the podcast where you'll hear from trailblazing women in sport. What can we learn from their journeys as we explore some of the key issues around equality in sport and beyond? 

I'd like to start with a big thank you to our partners Sport England, who support the Game Changers Podcast through a national lottery award. My guest today is Preeti Shetty, a hugely well-respected figure in sport, particularly in the area of sport for social change. Preeti is CEO and founder of Upshot, a tech social enterprise that helps sports operations manage, monitor, and evidence the community work they deliver. 

Preeti focuses her efforts on proving the difference nonprofits can make to people's lives and communities through impact measurement and evaluation. Aside from her work at Upshot, Preeti’s a non-exec director of Brentford Football Club, vice Chair of Street Child United, a director of London Sport, and she sits on Women in football's board committee.

Preeti,  there's so much I'd love to explore with you, but I might start with where you grew up in Dubai and I think many people today just associate Dubai with holidays for the rich and famous. But can you tell us a little bit more about your life there as a young woman?

Preeti Shetty 

Yeah, I mean it's very, very, very different to the Dubai, you imagine now. So I was born in Dubai and it really was desert, between one building there'd just be sand until you got to the next building. You know, there was no drainage system. And so when it rained, which was very rare, we all had the day off school cause the roads would flood. It was a really interesting place to grow up. It was very safe,but sort of a, a weird feeling of you don't fully belong. Like, there was always a, a difference between us and the, the Emiratis, the actual local people. You know, they're the history of the UAEs,  it's very new country, quite complex, um, but really came from Bedoin tribes and so, you know, their culture is really important to them.

And while they needed immigrants effectively to help build the infrastructure of the country, there was always a big distinction. And so, for example, I was born in Dubai. I grew up in Dubai, but you get the passport of where your parents are from. And so my parents are Indian and so I had an Indian passport even though I never lived there. And there was always a little bit of us and them and you, you know, you felt that as, as you were growing up. I always describe it a little bit as like, I definitely have a, a you know, a warped sense of identity because I say Dubai's home, they didn't really want me there. I'm Indian, you know, you look at me and you can see I am, but I've never lived there. So when I'm there they think I'm foreign. I didn't really fit here. And so there was always a bit of a weird mix. It was a really interesting, fascinating place to grow up, it was very international and so you met all these people from different walks of life and you, you know, you really felt this like sense of globalisation, but nothing, nothing like it is right now.

Sue Anstiss 

That's fascinating. It's all, even in my first question, I've learned so much. Um, how does sport feature in your life growing up and, and the life of your family?

Preeti Shetty 

My dad was really into watching sport and, you know, the, the, the kind of person that would watch anything, you know, he put on the TV and if it was like US basketball or golf or you know, the Indian came through very much in that he watched a lot of cricket. And so sport was always quite big so at school I played a lot of sport. Interestingly, I played basketball for quite a long time at quite a high level until everybody else got taller than me. And then I stayed the same height and then I realised I just couldn't, you know, I wasn't good enough. But I had this coach, my basketball coach, who I think recognised that the team meant a lot to me. And so even when I just wasn't good enough, he kept me on as player manager, which wasn't really a thing, and so I was like a weird combination of like kit woman, you know, I would do the like little team talk in the beginning, but I never really played anymore. I always enjoyed watching and I was one of these people that just wasn't very good at any sport. And so, you know, I just became more of a fan than anything else and I would watch old sport and my, clearest memory, 98 World Cup, . I think that's when I really started properly watching football and you know, growing up somewhere like Dubai, people always find this funny and, and we saw this during the Qatar World Cup, when you don't have your own country that plays in a national tournament, you kind of just pick another one.

It's the same reason you have Manchester United fans in China, right? And so I became a France fan and it's something very few people know about me. I actually still support France in the World Cup, which is, uh, which doesn't go down well in England, but, you know, I got to pick and it, it was Zidane and it was that brilliant World cup. And I suddenly became obsessed with football. And so my dad started watching football and so sport really became important to me, especially when I left home. I left home when I was 17. We,  called my parents once a week and my mom would talk to me about my life and how things are going. And my dad would say, you know, what happened in the game last week? And we'd talk about results or something. And that was kind of our, our sort of bonding ritual.

Sue Anstiss 

I love that. I love that. And, and what brought you to the UK then? You say you left home at, at 17.

Preeti Shetty 

So I left at 17. I wanted to do a gap year. I'd had no idea what I wanted to do. I, so I thought gap year and my, my parents didn't love that idea  and so we compromised on Belgium, which sounds really weird, but I had a cousin living in Belgium and he was older than me and we were very close. And so they said, fine, but you go live with him because he's gonna look after you. He was in his third year of university. The last thing that he wanted was his little cousin. It was horrible. And ironically, I got there and he gave me the keys and he said, see you around. And my parents had no idea, but I was like, oh, fantastic. And so I stayed in Belgium and they said, you know, you can't just do nothing and so you have to learn to speak French.

And I said, fine and so I did French classes and I spent, you know, a year just trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And then a year later they said, well, you have to go to university. You can't just do nothing. Your gap year's over. And London was kind of the closest English speaking geographically. We had a little bit of family here. And so, I came here, I did a media and comms degree because I, I genuinely didn't know what I wanted and that felt like it was easy. Uh, I went to Goldsmiths, um, and, and that was, you know, that was that. And I, I had, I didn't have a plan further than those three years.

Sue Anstiss 

And then how did you move? So you sort of …sports media, is that the beginning process of, but how did you, you start within the sport and not just purely media?

Preeti Shetty 

So again, very happy coincidence in my third year of university. So at this point I thought I wanted to be a TV producer. I was doing lots of like film TV type stuff and I thought, okay, that sounds like it could be fun.  I got an internship at the BBC. It happened to be at BBC Sport, but I took it because it was the BBC and so, you know, and I liked sport, so I was, I was happy with that. But it happened to be at BBC Sport and it happened to be at an outreach project called BBC Your Game, which was basically, an outreach programme that the, the BBC was running to engage young people not in education, employment and training using the power of football. It was a four week internship, and so at the end of four weeks, the, the team there said, do you wanna stick around? We actually need, need the help. And I said, yes, but you know, I can only work 20 hours a week. I was on a visa, like a student visa. I was an international student, you know, an immigrant in, in the proper sense. And so I worked there till I finished my, my degree and then I actually continued working there for another year and a half. And that was what really opened my eyes to, oh, sport isn't just the thing you watch on tv, it genuinely changes people's lives. And it was like an epiphany that this was a thing and you know, it's, it's what we would call sport for development now sport for social change. But at the time I was like, right, it's a whole new industry I guess, and people can work in this and you can get paid to do this.

And I, I had this moment of I'm never gonna do anything else ever again. And I'm very, very lucky I never did anything else ever again. And, you know, I finished my, my time at at the B and it's really interesting cuz a lot of the people that I met in that year, year and a half shaped my life and my career going forward. But once I finished and that programme ended and so we all sort of left and I went on a bit of a mission to go find out about sport for development, what else existed, who else was in this space? I did a bunch more free internships and then ended up building a bit of a portfolio working for sport, for development NGOs and was just, you know, completely blown away that there was infrastructure there, there were actually lots of organisations that did this and if I wanted to, I could make this a career.

Sue Anstiss 

And what do you think would've happened if you hadn't been at the BBC in that department? If you've been in drama? I can't think of other drama science or all all other areas that BBC cover, if it hadn't been in sport, do you think you would at some point have discovered sport for development?

Preeti Shetty 

I don't know if I would have, because, you know, I didn't play, like, I think when you talked to a lot of people in the sector how they got in, it's because they played right. I never played and so I, I don't think I would've found it. I think I would've become a TV producer or something else, you know? And, and I think I would've been good at it, I'm sure. But I, I'm incredibly lucky that that happened to me at that time. And I actually have a really, you know, it's a really funny story that I now tell her. But in that period when I was at Your game, I met Jackie Oatley, and she said, oh, do you want a tour of five live? And I said, sure. And so we did this little tour and you know, she said, have you thought about commentating?

And I was like, I'm not sure it's for me. Uh, you know, I don't think that's right yet. That's what I want to do. And, and she said, well, you know, you can be anything that you wanna be, but try everything first. And it really stuck with me. And I recently, you know, I have this photo of me 18 years old standing with Jackie Oatley outside Craven Cottage. Oh, <laugh>. I never forgot that. And so I was really like, well, I like this thing, so I'm gonna try lots of different things within it to find out what my like niche is gonna be. and she, you know, she, she doesn't remember this and it's funny now for us to look back and talk about it, but I think I was just very lucky, a, to fall into that and b, meet the right people at the right time who said the right thing, who said, this is a thing and you can do it. And, you know, try, there are opportunities and who gave me the opportunities. I think that was just lucky. And, and I've taken that with me. I try very hard now when I meet young people to tell them about the sector is not, you know, the sports sector's way bigger than you think it is. And there are loads of roles you would not even imagine exist. So try and find out what they are because you might find your niche within it, like I did.

Sue Anstiss 

And I  I did look back at it's a bit stalking, look back at your history and so, but you did quite a lot with your music and like, I guess that festival and, within communities too. So why do you think sport and music can have, can be so powerful for communities and driving change?

Preeti Shetty 

I think they're, you know, they're quite similar in that they're relatively universal, right? It's like, you know, we listen to music in other languages and we don't think that's strange. I would add food into that category too, and I have a similar relationship with all three. You know, it's, it's something that you bring that that's really powerful to really personal, really individual, you know, football loyalties or sport loyalties are always, you know, they're, it's like religion, right? And the same with music, but I think it's such a leveller that that's what really drives the change. And I, for me, it really has been, I don't need to be good at it to work within it or to love it. I can love it just as much as you love it, but I don't need to play, I don't need to play an instrument and I don't need to be a great chef in order to enjoy those things.

Right? And I think that's what makes it different to other things where it's like, you don't need a level of skill necessarily, and that means you and I are equal in the stands or in the kitchen or in, you know. And so I think there's something about that. But yeah, I, I did end up going down a, you know, a bit of a, a rabbit hole of what is that intersection between music and sport. Um, and I got to do lots of quite interesting campaigns and festival work where, and that's because BBC Your Game was around music, media and sport, and those are the things young people are into. So, you know, how, how can we use it as a tool to bring them in and then potentially teach them, show them other opportunities.

Sue Anstiss 

And it's interesting isn't, you say that whole way we can be equal in terms of within that sports world, but I think that isn't always the same in terms of being a fan of sport potentially. So what experience have you had, especially within the world of football as a woman and, and as a woman of colour also that, that doesn't always feel like it's fair and equal.

Preeti Shetty 

So it's really interesting. When I first moved to London, I had never had a Premier League team, or I'd never had an, an English football team, right? I supported France internationally. I, I didn't have a club. And so I decided I wanted to support my local club. I went to Goldsmiths, my local club is Mill Wall, and I went to a game and it was really one of the most horrific experiences I have ever had in my life. Like, somebody spat at me. I'd gone with like a, you know, group of people from Uni and I was really uncomfortable and I felt like I didn't belong and I felt like they didn't want me.

And this was a long time ago, But I had just a horrible experience and I left at the stadium and I said to, you know, my, my kind of housemates, I never wanna do this ever again. Like this was horrible and I don't wanna go and maybe it's not for me, you know, not that football isn't for me, but maybe club football isn't for me. And that I think would've maybe been the end of it. But I happen to live with, one of the guys in, in my dorms was a, a Bolton Wanderers fan. And he was incredibly lovely, and he would invite me to go, and they were in the Premier league at the time, they actually finished sixth that season. He invited me to watch all the games with them, and he was really welcoming and, you know, he would explain things to me that I didn't even know where Bolton was. (16:31): I had just moved to London. Um, but they were doing really well. And I was a really big Jay-Jay Okocha fan, and, and Jay-Jay was, you know, was playing for Bolton. And it just, it felt like, and he was nice and at the end of the season he gave me a Bolton shirt with Jay-Jay Okocha on the back, and I still have it. And so I decided I was gonna be a Bolton fan, and I still am, right. And when people ask me, they're always like, why do you even know? Like, what was the connection? Are you from Bolton? No, the connection was someone made me feel welcomed. And that I think is the real power of what football can do. It made a, you know, brown girl from Dubai feel really welcome and the irony is,  he's Welsh, he wasn't even from Bolton either!  <laugh>.

Sue Anstiss 

That's fabulous. That's a lovely story. Well, not the lovely part about Millmore, but the lovely rest of the story. Can you tell us, you did allude a little bit to it, but that your path to the football foundation, so that kind of how that took you there, your journey there.

Preeti Shetty 

Yeah, I mean I, my, my career has been full of I guess happy coincidences. You know, the first time I went to uni I had no idea what I wanted to do. The second time I went to uni, I did my masters, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I had spent all this time with these sports for development NGOs and you know, small NGOs, you do everything. And so I did the marketing, I wrote the grant applications, I did the effectively the impact reports. And I kept saying during that period, these funders are asking for so many things, like why can't they just come see what we do? We are changing people's lives. How do I fit that impact into that box? Like there's just a box on this page. And so when I decided to do my master's, I did a master's in, in sports management in the business of football.

And I wrote my dissertation and I specialised in research methods, evaluating sport for development programmes because I was like, there must be a be better way to do this. Like writing my impact in a box is not, you know, and then, and you, you can already see where this was gonna go. I was doing my dissertation on, I'm the only one who's ever read this,  comparative monitoring and evaluation tools in the sport for development sector and the Football Foundation, who I knew from my time at BBC Your game Radha, who I know, you know, the Football Foundation was one of the funders of BBC Your Game And Radha was my main contact at the time. And it's just, you know, it's so funny how, how things work.

And so when I was doing my dissertation, I reached out because I heard the foundation was building an impact measurement tool and they were lovely and they said, yeah you know, we're just building it. Come come and write your dissertation on it. And so I wrote my dissertation on a tool called Upshot, and I was very lucky to, to be there in that first year of, this was kind of 2012, the first year of the foundation trying to figure out what upshot was and what it was gonna be. And I wrote my dissertation and that was that. And then I saw a job advert from the football foundation and it was called Sales and Implementation Consultant for Upshot.

And I read the job description and I thought, that sounds horrible and boring. Anyway, I needed the money and I was running out of time to get to get jobs. And so I'll never forget it, the deadline was 1159 on a Sunday and I put my application in at 1152 and I was like, whatever. And I got an interview and I went into that interview, it lasted two and a half hours. And they said, so what sales experience do you have? And I said, none. And they said, okay, what tech experience do you have? And I said, none. And they said, why are you here? And I was like, well, cuz I spent the last year with you guys and I've literally researched everyone if your competitors and I know everything about you. And they said, okay, cool.

And I, I left the interview and I'll never forget, it was, it was 13th of December and I was going on, I was going back home the next day and I got downstairs and the phone rang and it was the foundation and they said, so we really don't think you're right for this role. And I was like, okay. And they said, so we we're hiring somebody else. And I was like, this is the weirdest rejection call I've ever had, but okay, <laugh>. And they said, but there's something there. Like, there's obviously something here, so do you wanna join and we'll figure out what the role looks like? And I was like, yeah, yeah. Okay. And so that Jan, I started at the football foundation and we did fig- I said, the first thing I want, please don't call me sales and implementation consultant. And so we changed it to consultant, which means nothing basically.

And I was very lucky to be at the start of the football foundation launching Upshot, initially, you know, internally to our own network and then bigger and bigger. And four years after that I became the head of Upshot. And obviously quite a few years after that I bought Upshot. nd so it's, it's been a real journey of discovery and I was very lucky at my time at the foundation, you know, I worked on Upshot the entire time, but at one point I also sat on the, the foundation's management team. And so I really got to understand how the football foundation and the wider sport charity sector works, but I got to do my own thing within it. Yeah.

Sue Anstiss 

And can you give us in a nutshell, but a little bit about the football foundation and kind of what it does?

Preeti Shetty 

Yeah, so the Football Foundation is the UK's largest sports charity. It's funded by the FA, the Premier League and DCMS through Sport England. Um, it's basically, a funding body, that mostly supports organisations within England and Wales, with funding around facilities, so 3G pitches, changing rooms, floodlights, that kind of thing. In my whole time there, the foundation mostly did capital investments. Before my time, and actually, interestingly now the Football Foundation also does revenue programmes. So runs programmes that actually Upshot was built to measure. So social impact and social outcomes. And, and so the, the foundation's kind of looking at both things, but you know, it's the largest organisation of its kind and really supports the infrastructure needed not just for football, but other sport too to put the right infrastructure in place to make sure that there are opportunities for everybody.

Sue Anstiss 

And without wanting to put you in that sales role, in terms of that insight and tracking and the outcomes, what difference can that make to the actual then the delivery of service for those organisations?

Preeti Shetty 

I think the biggest piece, and, and I talk about this a lot, is for a long time people saw data and impact measurement as accountability, right? You are giving me money and the, the football foundation was the same, right in the beginning. You are giving me money, I need to tell you what I did with the money. Whereas what it, what it's really about is effectiveness. We wanna know whether it's working, if it is working, why and how is it working so that we can replicate and scale. And if it's not working, can I find out in real time so that I can tweak and adapt? Whereas what traditionally happened, and that was really the driver for us building Upshot at the football foundation, we were giving away significant amounts of money, often to voluntary led organisations. We were asking for an annual report.

The report would say, we've engaged with a thousand kids this year, that's great, but so what? And understanding that's so what, and really starting to look at the outcomes achieved. We didn't feel that was just the job of the delivery partner. That's equally the job of the funder. And so we really wanted to move to a place where we were saying, how do we know that we're really making a difference? And how do we know and how can we support delivery organisations to do that better? And the answer is data. The answer is really understanding, you  what, what is and isn't working. And that's something that, and you know, the sector has really moved on, right in the beginning of my sales role, cause I did have a sales role at the start. Nobody wanted to talk about this. Whereas now it's such a buzzword. Everybody does. Everybody does.

Sue Anstiss 

And is upshot constantly evolving and in terms of technology and so on, I, and I guess I, I've, I've come across a product through the, you know, campaigns and, and organisations we work with, but is it that constant evolution for you?

Preeti Shetty 

Yeah, so, you know, we built it, we built it 10 years ago and initially it was very much meant to be for us to use at the football foundation. And then we realised, we did a lot of consultation when we built it and we realised we're not the only organisation that has these problems. We're not the only organisation trying to collect data and understand impact. And so we quite quickly branched out into, well, who else wants to use it? We also realised technology is really expensive. And so going back to the board each time and saying, I want more money because I want to develop, I want to improve, I wanna enhance the product because the more organisations started to use it, the more feedback they had and the more things they wanted. And so it started to quickly spiral out of control. And that's why we set up this model at the football foundation where we started to licence it out to other charities, to other, initially sport.

And then it grew so organically that we started working with quite a lot of non-sport organisations and they were saying, well, it's the same premise. I'm not delivering sport, I'm delivering art. I'm delivering education. I still want to understand whether I'm making a difference. But the more we branched out, the more we realised we can't ever stop evolving because technology is evolving so quickly that we need to keep up. And so a big part of what we do with the system, it's all, it comes from user feedback, is basically us understanding what the sector needs, all the sectors we work in. But the beauty and the opportunity that we have is because we work with so many different kinds of organisations, we take learning from here and we bring it in here, what is education doing that sport can learn from? What is the criminal justice sector doing that could be of interest to us? And so we end up playing quite a unique role. Technically we're a system provider, IT provider, but I don't think neither us nor any of our organisations see us as an IT provider because we are really looking to add that, bring that insight back into the sector.

Sue Anstiss 

And how big are you now as an organisation? 

Preeti Shetty 

We’re 12 people and it's, it's been, you know, it's really interesting evolution I guess because for a long time we were part of a much larger organisation. So the Football Foundation, and I don't think I appreciated it at the time, did all my finance, all the HR, all the admin and you know, I thought I was running Upshot. I turns out I was just a figurehead, 

Sue Anstiss 

Because I was gonna ask you about that transition.

Preeti Shetty 

I mean, what, what a what a transition. Like I don't think I was prepared for or realised how much a) they did and b) what it entails to run your own business. I had no idea. And so we're 12 people now with a lot of outsourced. So we have an outsourced tech team and accountants and HR, but we are very much back to startup mode. And like we, I always joke everybody in my team has two, two roles, has two jobs because as a startup we do everything and you know, where we are rebuilding in a weird way.

Sue Anstiss 

And have you enjoyed being CEO and all that comes with a running a business?

Preeti Shetty 

I mean, there was a lot more crying than I thought there would be. I, I cried a lot. It was also really, I never planned this. Like this was never planned. And if you had asked me, you know, five years ago, what's the trajectory? I think I would've said CEO but I would've never said off my own business. I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. I never, I like working for other people, but it's sort of just happened quite organically and it happened during the pandemic and so it was quite a stressful thing. Like I, I only did it because I felt I had to, and so I, you know, effectively picked up, I bought Upshot off the football foundation and coming up with finding money in the summer of 2020 was probably one of the craziest things I've ever done or will ever do because I don't, I'm not really sure how I did it.

And it was incredibly scary and isolating because I was suddenly responsible. We, we were eight people at the time, I was suddenly responsible for eight people's lives. If this didn't work, that was on me and I wasn't prepared for that kind of pressure I thin. So we've been an independent organisation, we are a social enterprise, for two years now, just, just almost exactly two years now. I think I look at, I look back and I look at this and I'm like, oh, I, I actually know what I'm doing now. That first year I made so many mistakes. I got so many things wrong. I genuinely had no idea what I was doing. And so every month something new would come up and I'd be like, I don't know how to do this. Whereas now these things come up and I'm like, I remember that from last year. You know, that's a, that's a thing I've done before.

Sue Anstiss 

Do you think there was added pressure because you were a, a female in that role, in sport but also in a tech type role too?

Preeti Shetty 

I think the parallels between sport and tech are absolutely fascinating, especially in that they're both quite male dominated industries. I found it, I saw it most clearly when I was looking for money, when I, needed to find the funding And I found that I really saw the downsides, I guess for lack of a better word, of being a young woman of colour because people kept asking about my track record and they, and I was like, what you, I've run this business for eight years, I don't know what more you want. And they kept asking about, you know, a, a bit like my pedigree then that was very much a, I thought it should have been about the business.

I, I run a profitable business. I have no startup has that,  I have eight years worth of, I have clients, but it became all about me and all of the questions were around me, the individual and like things like whether I'm married or not. So my partner owns our flat and it was like, oh, can you put the flat in both of your names? And it was all of this like weird stuff that was, and I, I understand why it's because I was asking for a lot of money, but it felt very personal. It felt very individual and a lot of people like just hung up like a lot of people wouldn't even engage. And I think that was quite difficult. I don't, you know, I think anybody start buying a business, starting a business, it's complicated. But equally something I struggled with in, especially in that early period was I didn't really feel there were that many people I could talk to that had a similar experience.

They were, you know, the sector, like the day I announced officially,  that Upshot I’m the CEO of Upshot, the Upshot sale, I was actually really touched by quite a lot of CEOs in sport. Mostly men reached out on LinkedIn and emails. Even ones I didn't know, just saying, hey, well done, if you ever need to talk, I'm here. And I found that lovely. My issue was there wasn't anybody that was in my position having to raise the money, being a woman, being a woman of colour. In such a bizarre situation. At one point in the kind of legal negotiations with the football foundation, I was employed by the football foundation negotiating a buyout with my own lawyers. Like it was, there wasn't anyone that I could talk to and I found that quite difficult.

Sue Anstiss 

That's interesting you are talking about that kinda outpouring of  love. I remember seeing across LinkedIn and social media on the announcement. It did feel from an outsider's point of view that there was so much positivity  around it. And that and that feeling of your, of not being an outsider,  but not having anyone to support you there, has that changed do you feel now you've shown and proven all you can do two years in?

Preeti Shetty 

Very much. And you know, I, I'm, I've always been very lucky that I have a great network within sport, a great personal network, you know, people, I consider friends that I've met along the way and on a personal level a lot of people were there for me, right? There was a lot of people that were like, but through the cry it was mostly the crying through the crying, it was like, that's fine, call me and cry. And you know, people coming up with ideas even though they didn't know what they were trying,  that has really only increased and improved over the, the last two years. I think the sector has been incredibly supportive because I'm a woman of colour sometimes I think, which is a, you know, which is a really nice change. I think there is a recognition that, and also caus I'm, I'm really honest about the fact that I don't know what I'm doing quite a lot of the time.

Like I know about impact measurement, but this is all new to me and I think because I'm quite happy to be vulnerable about that pe it resonates and loads of people have also been honest. So for example, I, you know, I I with a group of brilliant people run something called the F Word where, and we started this again in the pandemic or restarted it in the pandemic, a load of, you know, sport leaders, I guess for lack of a better word, come together on a call, and talk about failure and talk about the stuff they're getting wrong with no judgement and lots of empathy. And I didn't have that at the time that I think I absolutely have now. I'm not embarrassed to go to someone or a group of people and say, my God, I've really messed up, what do I do? Cause often the response is, oh my God, I did that last week, <laugh>. Which is fine.

Sue Anstiss 

And what sort of CEO are you, how would your team describe you as a, as a leader of an organisation?

Preeti Shetty 

Good timing for this question and we just, we are just doing 360 peer reviews, <laugh>. And so we'll see what they say this time. But I think because again of the history, you know, my entire team came with me, my team at the foundation came with me nd that was, they took a huge leap of faith. Like there was no need for them to trust that this was gonna be okay. And to be honest, I didn't know it was gonna be okay. I was always very transparent with them. So when I did the original forecast, we were gonna run out of money in two years and I told them I think two years is long enough to fix and it turns out it, it is, but we didn't know that at the time. And so I've always been very, very open and quite democratic as a leader.

Sometimes too democratic,  like criticism from my team is often everybody doesn't have to make the decision. You don't have ask everybody for their opinion, but you know, because of our history, there's a lot of ownership across my team and I trust them very much and I could never do this without them and so we collaborate quite a lot. I really care about having purpose. Like for me, I do this because I absolutely it. And while there are bad days, I genuinely believe in what we do. I think we are helping the sector and I want other people in my team to also feel their, understand their why now, their why might not be my why, but I want them to want to come to work and enjoy it and be open and you know, and for us to be inclusive and for us to have difficult conversations. And I think for the most part we do. Someone described it the other day as she doesn't have an open door policy, she has a no door policy and that's because we work in a co-working space. So, you know, sometimes I would like a door. But we are, it's a brilliant team and we are very, very honest because we had, we had to be like, it just, it's a kind of byproduct of the way the business came about.

Sue Anstiss 

You mentioned briefly there in terms of funding and so on for the organisation and being a woman and judged in that way. Do you think it impacts how you're viewed in the tech sector today as a female CEO? And I am also interested that whole emergence of tech, whether it's gonna level the playing field for women or, or we should be worried that we are not seeing more women and girls in this space?

Preeti Shetty 

I think very similarly to sport, we should be worried.  I think it has the potential to absolutely level the playing field, but we need to, just like with sport, we need to make that happen. It's just not, if we leave it to organically grow, it will not happen. You know, really good example of this is if you Google image search CEO dress code, you just see men, there's one woman and she's wearing a pink suit. Like, I mean that, you know, there is inherent bias in data and tech, right? And you know, the emergence of AI, it's super exciting. People are talking about Chat GPT and machine learning and Web3, all things that I love. But the problem with all of them is while it has the potential to level the playing field right now, there's a lot of bias that is skewed towards men and male viewpoints and male behaviours and male bodies.

And so if we are not careful, that's what AI is gonna learn. That men come first, that men are more important, that, you know, this is the body shape and size that we need to cater for. These are the rules that we need to, to build on. And so I'm very excited about this area, but we need more representation in not, not just sport and tech, in sport tech, so that we are building tools aimed at women and the only people that can build tools aimed at women are women or people who identify as women.

Sue Anstiss 

And where does that start? How do we drive that change? Is it, how much is it about seeing women and and women of colour in those senior roles in sports tech and how much of it is about colleges and schools and you know, right to, I guess it's all, I'm answering my own question, it's at all those levels, but, but where do you feel is the most important?

Preeti Shetty 

It's  absolutely all those levels, but you know, going back to my ex personal experience, if we want entrepreneurs, black, brown, you know, women of colour, then we need to support them way better than I was supported. You know, I'm very lucky I ended up getting the money, but that could've been the end of it. And I think more support and funding for women of colour to be able to start their own programmes, start their own businesses,  work in tech, get the experience. And that's everything from things like school stem programmes, Black Girls Code to investment funds, like where's the VC fund? We know the stats around VC funding for female founders generally. What about the intersectionality of, you know, women of colour, disability, LGBTQI,  I think that's where we need to segment way more and support. That's where the equity piece comes in, right? It's like we're not even at the point of equality. We need to start with equity. And that starts from how you invest in people.

Sue Anstiss 

I know you have a number of non-exec board roles as well as all that you are doing at Upshot. So in 2021, you're appointed to the board of Brentford Football Club making you the only British South Asian woman on a Premier League boardroom. And what was the reaction like to that appointment at the time?

Preeti Shetty 

I think I was not prepared for it. Like I didn't realise what a big deal it would be and there was a lot of press around it and like, I remember the, you know, the, the day we were announced we were on the Sky Sports, like breaking news tick, which is really exciting, but also crazy. Like I suddenly gained, you know, 800 Twitter followers in one day. So very exciting, but also very intimidating. And you know, it's little things like loads of people on Twitter made fun of my name now I've heard the joke before. I've, I've heard jokes around my name many times. And it's fine when one person does it, 10 people do it when 10,000 people are doing it on Twitter on the same day it throws you. And so it was a really weird mix of, I'm very excited and very proud and really looking forward to this with, oh my God, I'm suddenly in in the public eye for, in a way I've never been before with people like, you know, stalking me basically, and like making judgments based on nothing they know and the colour of my skin and the, the sound of my name. And like, that was intimidating.

Sue Anstiss 

And had you had any support from Brentford or from the um, premier League in terms of readiness and preparing yourself for that profile?

Preeti Shetty 

It's, this is really good question. The club was incredibly supportive from a, you know, from a comms perspective and from a, here's what we're gonna do and here's what we're gonna plan. I don't think any, and this is very telling, nobody realised because there wasn't, there weren't that many people that it had happened to before, right? And so we didn't know. And you know, when I told them and, and they saw, they were incredibly supportive with the like, post, okay, what are we gonna do and what are we gonna say? And you know, mostly with stuff on social, you ignore is the answer. You ignore it and it goes away. And it absolutely, you know, the, the, the outpouring of love from our fans was so much more than the, the 1000 negative comments that it didn't matter. And I had some beautiful moments, you know, little girls when I was, I walked to the stadium, little girls stopping and asking to take a photo with me and teenage boys shouting, welcome to the club. You know, really lovely things like that that, so it didn't matter in the end, but I think you can only be prepared if you have the lived experience to know what's gonna happen. And now we do, right? That's the point. Like we are Brentford is, you know, it's quite good on diversity on our board, very good. Deji is the only black person on a Premier League board. We have two women, uh, we have multiple people of colour, I think now we know. And so the next one we can be better prepared.

Sue Anstiss 

And and how welcomed have you been in the world of football at the highest level?

Preeti Shetty 

It's interesting, you know, I, I've worked in football for 15 years, but only in grassroots football. And so it, that was completely new for me, this whole elite football. And I think the funniest thing was the money. Like, you know, I've spent most of my life trying to find the money to fund football and the flip side of, you know, elite football is we have loads of money, what are we gonna spend it on? And so it was all a really big change at Brentford I felt incredibly welcomed. I think the timing was wonderful because I joined right when the club was promoted and so it was new for them too. It was new for everybody. They hadn't been in the Premier League for 74 years and so we were all in it together and that was incredibly helpful. And also they hired two of us and so we had each other, which was really nice.

As a whole, elite football has been relatively welcoming, but I think I still find it quite interesting that at the club it feels like home. You know, it feels like this is my family. I spend a lot of time there,  because there's not that many women across the rest of the clubs. I think I, I don't know, I think I was expecting more connection and solidarity and like, but we are the same, so shouldn't we all talk? But that doesn't really happen. And that I think surprised me a little bit cause I thought, I don't know all the men ha- like do the women,  acknowledge each other even sometimes and you know, and some do obviously, but I think I was expecting a bit more and you really feel that, that you are the only woman or, or your only woman of colour, like often I’m, you know, we go to other clubs and other games and boardrooms and my, my partner's, a white man is often mistaken for a director and I'm, you know, and often you look around the room and there are many women, but they are partners. And I think that's when you really see it

Sue Anstiss 

And it, I mean it's fantastic. You said that, that you and Monique in terms of the, the two females on the board at Brentford, but across the league it is dreadful, I think it 10. Are you only, were you one of only 10 women? I think it is at the moment, it's 10. So what needs to change for, for that to change, do you feel?

Preeti Shetty 

I think it's a couple of things. You know, there, like what Brentford did that was so wonderful is they went to open advert. I had no connection with Brentford. I applied because I saw the advert on the internet and opening up your applicant pool, that's how you get diversity, right? And they got two people who didn't know them before.   I think that starting with that is recognising why, you know, women, we know all the stats around this. It's good for business, we know all this. It's about lived experience. It's about the fact that you want to be representative of your audience, surely and your community. And there are lots of women who watch football and lots of moms who take their kids and buy stuff. And so I think first, as you need to recognise it's good for you, second you need to open up that, that talent pool.

But I think thirdly, we need to make it easier. Like for women that I speak to loads of women who are like not just at the board level. I think importantly at C-Suite, that's where we need the women in some sense. It's easy to get board positions, often they're unpaid or it's like small amounts of money. Pay the women at C-suite level, pay them what they deserve, they will make the change. right? And I think we will see change, you know, it's, that number is damning. The fact that it's in the EFL in the championship, it goes down to 4%. I think it's, it's, it gets worse and worse the lower down you go, right? But it's sort of saying, well how are we actively gonna do that and how are we gonna make them feel welcome? Why would I want to work somewhere that I don't feel welcome? And I think that's the piece of work that Triple still has to do is we want you and we value you and we'll put our money where our mouth is.

Sue Anstiss 

That's brilliant. Thank you. And I think that's so important, isn't it? This C-Suite conversation. I think sometimes I myself get too hooked on the it’s about board directors and women on boards and actually of course it isn't. It's the full organisations. And I just wonder, do you worry about having so few women in those decision making positions at Premier League clubs when it's those very clubs that are now running so many of our W S L teams? How, how do you feel about that?

Preeti Shetty 

Honestly, like I, I understand that we are where we are with like women's teams being part of men's clubs basically. But the problem with that is   you have a CEO of a club that for years and years and years, often has only thought about the men. And while now you are adding on a second bit, maybe they'll think about the women every now and then, but it's not gonna come naturally. It's just not. And you know, there are wonderful, like Brighton is a great example. Paul Barber, such an ally. I know he's actively thinking about the women, that's just not gonna happen organically. And I think the mistake that clubs are making is, hey, sponsorship department, help the women out, hey partnership team, look at the women too. No, we need specific people in specific roles.

I want to hire a person who understands women's sponsorship. That's who we should be hiring. So I kind of think we're doing ourselves a disservice by going down that route. And we need CEO of Brentford FC Women and then a whole team under them, a director of football for the women because it's not the same product and we shouldn't try to make it the same product. I think we should take what we love about the men's game, but we need to make it our own and in order to make it our own, that doesn't mean men can't work there, but it needs to be men who understand the women's game.

Sue Anstiss 

And is that happening in the Premier League? Do you see that any clubs evolving in that direction?

Preeti Shetty 

I mean, you know, I think there are really good examples,  Brighton as I mentioned, I think are brilliant. Obviously Lewes, who we absolutely love, who, you know, have always thought about this. I think we've got Zoes I think there are really interesting international examples. You know, there's a, I always talk about this, there's a club in, in Germany, a women's football club, small,  in Berlin. Small knew they would never raise the money, wanted to do the Angel City model, but didn't know anybody famous. And so they basically ended up going to C-Suite  women in tech in Berlin and saying, forget about football, do you wanna invest in women? And that's who owns them, right? And so I think there's quite interesting models happening and obviously they're not connected to a men's club. And I think it would be nice if, you know, as the, as the WSL is starting now, to really look at what the model will be. I think we need to make room for things like that. I don't think we're there yet. And I think we are just, it's the same problem of like, when you've only got people who've done a certain thing, that's how you think we should do things and we need totally fresh blood.

Sue Anstiss 

I, I feel like I'm moving down a slight depressing path here. If we then look at the recent UEFA  elections,  and obviously it's so disappointing not to see some brilliant women make it onto the council. Again, how will women ever get equal places on those sports boards? I don't want you to wave a magic wand and whatever, but..

Preeti Shetty 

I mean, look, it's two, I think one, we have to keep fighting for it. And every, you know, we either force our way in, we break down the door, like, or we build really wonderful allies who get up off their seat to make room for us. And I think that's not happening enough. You know, there's one thing and that's because people are worried, right? It's like there seems to be this idea that, and this isn't just for gender, this is with so many protected characteristics. If I do that, there's less for me. And that's just not true. There is enough space for all of us. I'm just, because I get it. Doesn't mean you don't get it, but I think there needs to be a recognition that I've had it for so long. Maybe now it's time for you. And the only way to make that happen, especially with things like elections, okay, you're saying there's only 10 places.

I don't know who came up with that rule. One of you did at one point and 11 would be crazy. You know, who would think fine, then one of you get up. But the only way to do that, I think, is we have to be pushing both sides, right? We need to be showing that we're, we can, we're capable. And, and unfortunately it adds so much pressure to the women who do have it, because the risk of them getting it wrong impacts an entire generation of women, which is really sad. That would never happen for men. I mean, I don't see anybody going, Boris was an absolute idiot. We should never have a male prime minister ever. And so, you know, I think there's a lot of work to be done, but we are moving in the right direction and I think we need to be much more collective about it. It doesn't matter whether it's me or you, as long as it's one of us and I think we, we need to come together. Whereas unfortunately, I still think there are women in the industry that are like, no, me first, and then we'll think about you.

Sue Anstiss 

That's really interesting, really interesting. And, and I know from what you've said anyway, but I had thought you often must be the kind of first and only in rooms, whether that's as a woman or a person of colour. So how do you personally deal with that? And has it got easier over time?

Preeti Shetty 

Yeah, it's, it's, it's hard. It's hard. It's always gonna be hard. It's, it's, it's less hard now than annoying. I think I've gotten to the point of like, ugh, God again. And, you know, I really genuine and other people of colour will say, oh, other women know this. When you are the first or only,  there's a, there's a pressure to speak on behalf of everybody, right? So like often I get asked, oh, what will Asian people think? Or what do you think women will think? And I, so I've once got asked, what will Gen Z think? And I had to explain, I'm 37 years old, so I wouldn't know <laugh>. But that, I don't know. We're not a homogenous group. I have no idea what another woman thinks. I can tell you what I think. And so I hope I'm in the room for my opinion.

I can consult and ask other women. I can bring them into the room, which is what I'd like to do, but I can't be responsible for it. And that, that's a lot of, it's a lot of work. Someone described this the other day before they go into these rooms, they sort of, you know, they give themselves a moment. It's like they have to hold themselves knowing it's gonna be difficult and, and you know, men just don't feel like that. And so that's really frustrating.  Saying that though. I do feel like people are more cognizant of it. And so like I very much use it to my advantage, right? I'm like, great, if I'm the only, you can't correct me. And so let me tell you everything that I think and what I think all women think, because you know what, you don't have, you don't have any lived experience. And so I can get what I want, right? And I can do what I think is right for other, other women, other people of colour. Um, but I still do this thing where, where there's another woman or another woman of colour, I do like that nod that you do where it's like, oh, hey you, we should probably meet, which is, you know, shouldn't happen in this day and age.

Sue Anstiss 

And finally, what would you like to see the sports sector do to ensure sport is a more welcoming place for all people? So are there any particular, uh, big levers that you think could make a difference?

Preeti Shetty 

I think we need to make more space for younger people. We sort of make it really difficult, you know, at boards, but, but at every level,  we make it really hard to enter and to continue. So the board example I always give is board meetings are in the middle of the day for two hours and they're often voluntary. If I was working at the football foundation, what would I say to my boss, sorry, I'm going on Tuesday for three hours to do my voluntary position. You know, young people can't do that. The only reason I can do the four boards I'm on is because I work for myself. And so I really think we need to let that youth voice come through and not in a youth board like that is, you know, patronising. I think we need to pay people for that time. I think we need to hear their voices and let them in and they will make it more welcoming because you know, that is levelling the playing field, right? So, and I think the second thing is like

We really need to ask ourselves why, like why it's such a buzzword, the EDI stuff at the moment, or you want more diversity, are you just doing it because everybody else is? And the answer to that in sport has often been hire a  head of EDI. Why? So it becomes their problem and not everybody else's. I would rather not have a head of EDI and make it everybody else's problem, right? Or make them all accountable. So I think we really need to ask ourselves the question, are we just doing it because we think we should? And if not, how do we really embed that in, you know, how do we live and breed that if we think it makes us better and we wanna be the best possible organisation we can be?

Sue Anstiss 

How fantastic to talk to Preeti. She and I have met at many industry events in recent years and always managed a brief chat, so it was lovely to have a chance to speak to her properly. Head over to fearlesswomen.co.uk to find previous episodes where I've spoken to other women leading football, including Kelly Simmons, Jo Tongue, Jackie Oatley, Manisha Taylor, Maggie Murphy, Moya Dodd, Jane Purdon, and Sue Campbell.

As well as listening to all the podcasts on the website. You can also find out more about the Women's Sport Collective, a free inclusive network for all women working in sport. You can also sign up for the Fearless Women Newsletter, which highlights the developments in globa

l women's sport. And there's more about my book Game On,  the unstoppable rise of women's sport. Thanks again to Sport England for backing the Game Changers with a National Lottery Award and to Sam Walker at What Goes On Media, who does such a fantastic job as our executive producer. Thank you also to my colleague at Fearless Women, Kate Hannon. 

The Game Changers is free to listen to and you can find it on all podcast platforms. Do follow us to make sure you don't miss out on future episodes. And if you have a moment to leave a rating or a review, it really would be great as it makes a big difference to help us reach new audiences. Do come and say hello on social media where you'll fire me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram @sueanstiss. 

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