As an award-winning serial social entrepreneur, green tech innovator, STEM ambassador and board member of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, Dr Marilyn Comrie OBE is no stranger to taking on new challenges.
But within all these varied roles there is a common goal to Marilyn’s work: inspiring other women and people of colour and driving inclusivity and diversity.
Marilyn had long championed diversity in motorsport through her role as a member of the British Womens Racing Drivers Club and as Business Development Director of The Blair Project, which help disadvantaged young people access motorsport, but she wanted to drive change at a wider scale across sport and in her local region of Manchester.
She entered the Perrett Laver and Sport England’s Diversity in Sport Leadership Programme to take on a board position and help sporting organisations widen participation at a grassroots level.
What was it that drew you to the programme and a role with Greater Sport?
Driving diversity in sport is something I am passionate about in both a professional and personal capacity. And while I had always been interested in taking on a governance role in sport to help drive this change at a wider scale, I had never quite known how or where to take the first leap.
What was key was Perrett Laver proactively reaching out to me and asking me to engage with the Diversity in Sport Leadership programme. One of the great things about the programme is the way that both Perrett Laver and Sport England work with you to help you understand how your skills could benefit certain organisations, and conversely, how these roles can develop you as a professional and as a person.
The role with Greater Sport particularly appealed as it operated within my local community and I felt I could really help the organisation reach some of the communities in the area that had traditionally been harder to reach. The opportunity to drive this change in my local area was one I jumped at.
Did you have experience in the sport industry before taking on this role?
In my day-to-day role as director of business development with The Blair Project, I play an active role in expanding youth participation in motorsport. The role of the organisation is to help marginalised young people discover hidden talents, boost their self-confidence and raise career aspirations through Motorsport STEM activities.
While this gave me a firm set of transferrable skills to take into a governance role with Sport England, I knew there would be much to learn to ensure that I could achieve the change I wanted to see in Greater Sport.
What are some of the positive outcomes you have seen in diversity through Greater Sport, as result of taking on your role?
I knew that there were barriers between Greater Sport and some of the communities in Manchester. Despite Greater Sport’s best efforts, it had been unable to break these barriers down and a number of meeting and engagement initiatives revealed that a different approach was needed.
I understand how important it is for people to see themselves and their communities represented at senior levels of an organisation. Since coming onto the board, I have been able to advise Greater Sport on what they can do to be more inclusive, and act as a spokesperson to previously excluded communities to ensure that Greater Sport is as accessible to all.
I am very proud to say that we have now been able to bridge the divide between Greater Sport and widen participation in those communities.
Have you found it a rewarding role to take on alongside your full-time job?
I have found the role immensely fulfilling to take on. Being a ‘natural giver’, I want to make a difference and I am very glad that I have been able to do that.
But this is also about personal growth and development as a leader in my own right. I worked with Perrett Laver and Sport England throughout the Diversity in Sport Leadership programme to identify gaps in my skills and where I would like to grow my experience.
I knew that I wanted to develop my skills in risk and audit for example, and I volunteered to join the Audit and Risk Committee at Greater Sport to develop these skills. This has benefited me tremendously in my risk management skills and has made me a much more rounded business person.
What would your advice be to any others thinking of taking on a board role in sport?
My advice to other leaders in the private sector would absolutely be to volunteer and put themselves forward for these opportunities in sport.
This will inevitably mean pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, but in life you only begin to grow and develop when you test yourself. Do things that feel uncomfortable and that challenge the norm.
Your presence on these boards will not only hugely benefit communities and organisations, but will allow you to develop you as a person.