Women in Sports Centre Management – not just as good as but better than…

From a short background of teaching in London I saw great opportunity following local government re-organisation in the mid ‘70’s to join an industry which promised huge growth. My first step was to be appointed Leisure Research Officer at one of the Greater Manchester (GM) local authorities. Identifying and mapping all leisure and cultural facilities in the district was a key part of the job as well as the organisation of events as part of the leisure team. Interestingly I met an Arts Officer who was part of the team who became a good friend and we continue to work together on a range of cultural projects.

I then decided that I needed some leisure facility experience and joined another GM authority to develop the programme of use and undertake coaching at a new dry facility which had been added to an established swimming pool. Developing a robust programme of use was challenging although the centre manager, whose background was swimming related, was supportive. At this time I embarked on a two year, part-time, recreation management course at Loughborough University. This helped me to develop a skill set which was invaluable to my developing career but probably more importantly was the establishment of, and interaction with, a new network of leisure professionals that were also part of the course. Up to this time I hadn’t really given any thought to what is, essentially, gender bias but my next step, promotion to Assistant Manager Sports Centres (following an internal reorganisation), brought home to me the evidence of this.

My challenges in the early days of this role were more from elected members, who despite knowing little about the industry, tried to interfere in operational matters, aided and abetted by senior managers – a situation I think that would have been unlikely if the post holder had been a man. Confidence from my training, my success in competing in a number of sports combined with my good relationship with staff, users and the local press enabled me to “rise to the challenge”. Success in organising and leading major international sports and media events (such as It’s a Knockout) helped me to “stand my ground” and achieve what I believed was the right path to follow.  The other side of the coin was my relationship with staff (predominantly male) some of whom thought I might be an “easy touch”.  I tried to lead by example, working unsocial hours and encouraging staff to achieve their potential but I was never scared to “take them on”!  I was then promoted to the Manager (Sports Centres) position from where I took my next career step. Despite the many years that have passed since then, I do meet the odd member of staff who say they enjoyed the time I was managing the centre as I had no favourites and had a reputation of being “firm but fair”!

The management role provided the springboard to being appointed Regional Officer for the Sports Council, now Sport England which then led to being appointed Senior Regional Officer with a UK role. In general, I have to say, I didn’t experience any gender issues possibly because the team was pretty evenly balanced in terms of gender, and professional in approach. The Sports Council roles provided further experience which enabled me to move into management consultancy as part of a major accountancy practice, initially in London and then Manchester. An interesting change with women poorly represented at senior level, so there was always a need to “fight my corner” and be confident in decision making and building relationships. So, in common with my public sector experiences where I experienced a number of promotions, I was promoted to Associate Director, the only woman in the consultancy practice at Director level. From there, I started my own practice which continues to this day.

Overall, I count myself extremely lucky to have worked in some many different environments and working with some excellent professionals. However, I take the view, that advancement in the industry for a woman requires you to be better than your male equivalent rather than at the same level, but with a positive attitude I believe you can succeed in the industry.

Eileen Hinson 2019


Eileen Hinson – Sports career:

Initially Eileen was a teacher in London then a Leisure Research Officer for Wigan MBC. Her sports centre career started with Bury MBC as a sports coach at Castle Leisure Centre. She was then promoted to Assistant Manager (Sports Centres), which included Castle Leisure Centre, Goshen Sports Centre & Ramsbottom Swimming Pool & Fitness Centre, and subsequently promoted to Manager Sports Centres (Bury MBC). Eileen was then appointed as a Regional Officer for the Sports Council, North West Region, then a Senior Regional Officer, working at UK level.


Consultancy career:

After that Eileen moved into an interesting consultancy career as a Senior Management Consultant, then Associate Director, with Horwath Consulting (BDO Stoy Hayward) and then went on to be Director Leisure Services for BDO in Manchester and subsequently a Director with Strategic Leisure. Eileen now has her own consultancy practice.




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