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14 Jun 2024
Report identifies diversity, equity and inclusion challenges in health club sector
By Kath Hudson
Report identifies diversity, equity and inclusion challenges in health club sector
A McKinsey report found diverse organisations are more successful
Photo: shutterstock/wavebreakmedia
Diversity, equity and inclusion in the European fitness industry is examined in a new report which provides eye-opening findings and a starting point for change.

The Diversity in the Fitness Sector report, is a joint initiative between EuropeActive, RISE, Sport Alliance and EXI, and aims to understand the degree of bias and discrimination within the fitness sector. Between 1 November 2023 and 16 February 2024, 498 fitness professionals from across Europe were questioned in English, Spanish, German, French and Dutch to inform the study.

Forty seven per cent of respondents – both men and women – said they’ve suffered general gender-related discrimination. This included flirting and innuendo and people not taking what they say seriously.

Forty three per cent had experienced sexual harassment, including unsolicited physical contact and inappropriate touching.

Twenty seven per cent of respondents had received discrimination based on race and one person was quoted as saying if you’re not the right colour you have to work five times as hard.

Age is also a reason for discrimination by both colleagues and members, with younger people being dismissed for a perceived lack of experience. Other respondents mentioned witnessing insults and mean jokes being made about elderly members.

For those who experienced discrimination for reasons relating to gender, sexuality, race, disability and age, the study found that poor self-esteem and mental health were the biggest consequences and the treatment left many feeling as though they wanted to leave the industry.

When asked why discrimination or inequalities were happening, the lack of DEI training was the most common reason given, followed by a lack of diversity in leadership teams and no mechanism through which to report incidents, along with fear of the consequences.

Worryingly, 31 per cent of respondents said they would not participate in DEI training if it was offered. The report authors say this should be looked into and addressed. Twenty four per cent had taken DEI training and found it useful, but 6 per cent had not found the training of use.

In terms of resources to engage with and understand different cultures, 48 per cent didn’t have access, but would use them if they did; 33 per cent had access and found them useful and 11 per cent said they wouldn’t use them even if they were available.

The report makes the point that hidden biases are more insidious than discrimination, which is where training is so important. It's seen as an issue that the industry is still predominantly run by white males, with none of the top 30 operators having a female CEO.

The report says companies suffer as it causes lower staff motivation and productivity, leads to more sickness leave being taken, creates damage to reputation, limits growth, drives higher staff turnover and can lead to problems attracting talent.

Bringing about equity in the workforce and stamping out discrimination can have a positive impact on the bottom line. McKinsey research shows that mixed-gender teams financially outperform single-gender teams by 50 per cent, while The World Economic Forum says companies with strong diversity initiatives derive 45 per cent of their revenue from innovation, compared with 26 per cent in less diverse companies.

If you feel as though DEI needs to be pushed up the agenda at your company, the report has been designed as a starting point, providing resources for further information and actionable advice.

It includes case studies from Basic-Fit, SATS and The Gym Group and quotes from respondents that give a good flavour of the current status of the industry in relation to DEI.

The report is free to download here.

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