After leaving her career as a solicitor, Kirsten Sibbit-Johnston has spent the past decade as a consultant working with high-profile sports organisations around the world, from UK Sport, The FA, Formula 1, the Homeless World Cup and the New Zealand Olympic Committee, to NFL UK and the International Tennis Federation. It’s fair to say that she knows the world of sport like the back of her hand.
But taking on a governance role in sport has proved a different and more rewarding challenge entirely.
Kirsten entered Perrett Laver and Sport England’s leadership programme, which prepares leaders from the private sector for governance roles in sport, with the aim of broadening her skillset and developing professionally. The programme eventually led to a board role with elite organisation, British Curling, a sport in which she had no previous experience.
Caitlin Tickell, Consultant and Member of the Diversity and Inclusion Group at Perrett Laver, sat down with Kirsten to discuss her career journey so far, her role with British Curling and how working with Perrett Laver helped prepare her for the challenge.
Thanks very much for speaking with us today, Kirsten. Could you tell us a little about what first drew you to Perrett Laver’s programme and your role with British Curling?
I was first drawn to a board role as a means of driving personal development and learning new skills to take into my day-to-day role. What I quickly came to realise however was how much of a two-way street a board role would be.
When coming into an organisation like British Curling from the private sector you really have to consider where your own skillset is best used and how you personally can add value to these organisations. With my legal and sports consultancy background for instance, I knew I could bring a certain skillset to the board and help drive a level of excellence in the commercial aspect of British Curling.
However, the personal growth journey has remained a major motivator and I have made it my goal to join other working groups on the board and ensure I was broadening my knowledge base as much as possible.
Did you have experience in the sport industry before taking on this role?
I know the sports industry well through my full-time role at The Sports Consultancy, but a role in governance really forces you to look at the industry from an entirely different perspective.
I was initially hesitant to take on the role with British Curling as I had no direct experience of the sport. In many ways, this lack of experience has helped me challenge the status quo and bring a fresh perspective to the organisation.
One of the most important things that board members can do is ensure they are bringing new things to the table, challenging existing processes and really holding the leadership teams to account.
How do you feel your new perspective on the sport has helped British Curling?
Diversity of identities and perspectives is a hugely a beneficial thing for any organisation.
British Curling is an elite performance organisation, and one of the initiatives I am passionate about is driving female participation and performance within that elite framework. My perspective as the only woman on the board helps me understand what the potential barriers might be to this and allows me to bring a sense of personal perspective, despite lacking the experience in curling itself.
I have also long championed LGBTQ+ inclusive policies in my professional roles, including chairing Auckland’s Pride festival in New Zealand, and I am now bringing this experience into my current role with British Curling. LGBTQ+ policies are front of mind for all organisations through Pride Month, but creating an inclusive culture has to be a constant priority for all organisations.
I am committed to ensuring that the already welcoming and inclusive atmosphere at British Curling continues to develop and grow.
How did the programme with Perrett Laver prepare you for the role with British Curling?
It’s very common for people to feel a sense of imposter syndrome when taking on a governance role, particularly when they don’t have any direct experience in the sport or industry itself. But what Perrett Laver’s programme made me realise is why a different perspective is perhaps the most beneficial thing you can bring to a board position.
My identity has given British Curling an entirely new perspective and is helping drive new diversity and inclusion initiatives, while my professional experience is allowing British Curling to excel commercially.
The programme with Perrett Laver has given me the confidence to come into this organisation and help it grow and develop, while also helping me to grow and develop both professionally and personally.