To mark the day, we hear from a number of inspiring female FA colleagues who discuss their journeys to date, what it’s like to work in roles which are perhaps considered to be more typically male-dominated, the importance of role models and allyship, and why this day is so important.
Jo Stimpson - National Women's Refereeing Manager
I oversee the recruitment, training, development and education of all our female match officials – and it’s quite an interesting story as to how I got here.
In my early 20s I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I knew it was something that would need to be managed with medication for the rest of my life, but I was also given very strong advice to be as active as I could be as this would help manage the condition.
In my generation, like many others, playing football at school wasn’t an option. So around the time of diagnosis, through chance my local club formed a women’s team. I joined and started playing and soon became involved with the club on a wider level and started refereeing U14s girls’ matches. Before I knew it, I was refereeing local men’s games and I had the bug – I wanted to be the best I could be, and I progressed to the semi-professional game until I stepped into referee development.
Female referees are in the minority – under six per cent of referees are women, and we want to change that. The biggest challenge I see with younger female referees is the lack of self-belief, and much of our work is about developing them as people rather than as referees.
We know that female referees can operate at the highest levels of the men’s and women’s game, so it’s our job to give them the opportunities and exposure so they can reach their goals, whatever they may be. We need to be the role models and ambassadors for those girls coming through, and I’m so proud when we see people achieve things that they may not have thought was possible.
I actually share my birthday with International Women’s Day, and I’m really proud of that! Today is an opportunity for us to continue to empower women and girls – we must create environments where they believe they can go and achieve everything they want to.
When we talk about embracing equity, what’s most important for us is to look at people as individuals and establish what support they need to be the best that they can possibly be.
The women’s game in England is the most exciting area to operate in right now and the opportunities available to girls are fantastic. There's no better time to be a referee and I’d encourage any girl to take up the whistle and get involved.
Emily Webb - Lead Team Manager, England Men's Senior Team
I’ve worked within football since I left university, initially with Southampton before moving my life up to Derby to join the FA, firstly working with our men’s development teams and now with our senior men’s team.
So, my working life has typically been very male dominated, which of course brings challenges but also huge positives. I’ve had to work on my confidence – sometimes I can be the only female in the room and at times I’ll need to stand up and rally for what I want in the best interests of our team. But I always feel heard, and the environment our team creates gives myself and others the confidence to speak up.
Role models and allies are so important for building confidence. My boss is a strong female leader and she’s fiercely supportive of women in the workplace. We’re so lucky to have Gareth leading us as a team, too. He’s a great role model and is always so supportive of everybody in the room. The women in our team all feel valued, equal, and we all have a voice at the table. I’ve always been allowed to express my creativity and individuality, and perhaps I’ve brought things to the table as a woman that others may not have done.
My proudest achievement is how we’ve transformed our base camps at tournaments such as in Russia in 2018, St. George’s Park for UEFA EURO 2020, and most recently in Qatar. We’re transforming hotels into special environments for every team member and we see the impact it has on everybody. It keeps getting better and I can’t wait for Germany 2024 to do it again!
While I might work in a space where technically women are a minority, it doesn’t feel like that. There’s so much value in women having a voice and it’s important that we mark this day to recognise the achievements of women across our sport and wider society.
Keah Forino-Joseph - Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer
Growing up, I loved football. It was the game I played in my area, in my youth club and for a local club in my teens. Visibility in the women’s game was slowly growing – nowhere close to where we are now, but I remember having a poster of Rachel Yankey playing for Arsenal on my bedroom wall.
At the time I might not have realised it, but looking back I now know how important that was to me – to have a female role model in the game to look up to. I love the saying that ‘sometimes you have to see it to believe it.’
Joining the FA, I’ve learnt so much more about the history of the women’s game and the importance of celebrating those who paved the way for girls and women like me who love our beautiful game.
Their efforts to create a space for us to play and work in football, whether that’s on or off the pitch. Our unsung heroes of the unofficial World Cup in 1971, whose praises we are singing now, and our present role models off the pitch, like Rachel Pavlou, who’ve been working to bring women’s football to the forefront over the last 25 years.
This year’s theme is #EmbraceEquity and as an Arsenal fan I’ve loved seeing two of my favourite stars, Beth Mead and Bukayo Saka, feature side-by-side at award ceremonies as they both picked up their England Player of the Year Awards in 2022.
There’s still a long way to go, particularly in ensuring girls have equal access to sport and, in this case, specifically football. We’re not there yet, but I feel hopeful as we continue to make steps in the right direction.
As my journey in the football world is just beginning, I’m excited to see us keep progressing, keep reaching new milestones and keep setting new records for women and girls in football.