“The love of the sport pulled me through, but it took resilience to succeed in that world.”
Ebony-Jewel Rainford Brent is a former England women’s cricketer turned sports presenter and pundit, and now Director of Surrey Women’s Cricket Club.
Ebony marks a significant point in history as the first black female to play for the England cricket team. As a guest of LiveWire Sport’s Diversity in Digital Mentoring Programme she discussed the challenges she faced in her career transitioning from the dressing room, to the pressroom, to the boardroom and opened up about the issues surrounding diversity in sport and the media, from fundamental participation levels at grassroots, to the representation in professional sport.
"I always felt like a bit of an outsider, coming from a very multicultural, diverse environment, to then going to spend all my weekends, evenings and training in a very different world."
Born and raised in Brixton, London, from a Jamaican background, Ebony had no initial interest in playing cricket. But once introduced, she was hooked.
"I loved the sport, the sport dragged me in," she said. Scouted at the age of 12, she entered the system to see how far her potential could take her.
She won two World Cups with England in the ICC Women’s World Cup and World T20 and also an Ashes series in an all-conquering 2009. Since retiring from international cricket in 2012, she has turned to sport media to find a new voice as a presenter and sports pundit in both men's and women’s cricket for the BBC and Sky Sports.
"I had no ambitions to move into the world of media, I studied chemistry at university with a plan to go into forensic science or become a patent attorney," said Ebony.
Now in a position of influence, Ebony sits on the board as Director of Surrey Women’s Cricket Club and has used her experience and knowledge to change the face of cricket through initiatives such as the African-Carribean Engagement (ACE) programme.
Diversity challenges in sport and the media
Ebony has a unique perspective of the sporting industry, with experience as a player, presenter and key decision maker. Many of the challenges she faced growing up playing a predominantly white, middle-class sport have helped to shape her career.
"There has been a reduction of 75% of Afro-Caribbean British children engaging in cricket at a grassroots level due to the lack of a good relationship and trust between the sport and its community."
Looking to make a positive change, Ebony launched the ACE programme earlier this year. Targeting 11-18 year old boys and girls with sporting potential, the initiative breaks down barriers for the local Afro-Caribbean community by providing Level 3 ECV qualified cricket coaching, sports science, personal development education, equipment and travel grants - as well as opportunities to meet inspirational role models from their community.
Addressing representation in the media, Ebony commented: "While there is a lot of on-screen diversity, behind the scenes in a lot of the production or decision making at the top, there isn’t, sometimes providing a skewed perception," she said.
"There is progression because we are seeing a lot of visual representation - visibility is important because it breaks down the barrier to show people what is possible."
This resonated highly with group member Zahra Malik who, as a community football coach for young girls in Manchester, said: "There is not much diversity among the young girls I teach so I often find I am viewed as a role model to the girls in the community. I strive to break down these barriers that are stopping young girls from ethnic minorities from engaging with the sport."
This issues surrounding a lack of diversity behind the scenes has been an important realisation for individuals like Will Humphrey, a Bristol-based creative writer in the group, who said: "Talking about a need for change will hopefully avoid reliance on increasing diversity on-screen, and will potentially stimulate changes across the sectors and recruitment."
The barriers of diversity in sport and the media
Following discussions around on and off-screen diversity, this sparked conversation around what barriers are stopping individuals from reaching these key positions of influence in sport and the media, and the concept of ‘Unconscious bias’.
Ebony said: "This unconscious element is not something many people are aware of, and not something I think is intentional, but it's just the way humans operate and think - so for us we need to educate ourselves on influence."
Through learning how to tailor her language and the way she speaks, Ebony described her experience to overcome bias through educating herself on influence.
She added: "If you can make business cases as to why to do things rather than an emotive case using good language and how you present the benefits, key decision makers will be much more likely to listen to what you have to say."
Ebony put things in perspective for individuals like Connor Belle, a University student from the West Midlands, who said: "Educating myself on unconscious bias and influence is a subject matter that isn’t really talked about, but it exists and is out there in the real world."
At grassroot levels, there are different barriers stopping children from simply engaging with sport. Accessibility and location were key themes that arose in discussion. "Trying to find a way of adding value to participation involves agreeing a level of commitment from individuals to improve engagement with sport" was one suggestion from Ebony.
Not only is commitment required from participants but buy-in from key decision makers is also required. Ebony added: "The running of programmes such as the ACE programme can be expensive and require a lot of influence to persuade panels and boards. This is why influence and investment are important at the top."
This article was written by Emily Chow, a Sport, Health and Exercise Science graduate of British-born Chinese background.
"I can relate to Ebony as one of the few Asians on the pitch playing competitive field hockey, a predominantly white, middle-class sport. Though it is easy to feel different, I have learnt to embrace it as something that makes me stand out. It is what drove me to join the Diversity in Digital Mentoring Programme to contribute to positive change.
"Diversity in sport is important to ensure no individual or group of individuals are excluded from what sport can do - provide enjoyment and entertainment. It's everyone’s responsibility to make the appeal of sport as broad and inclusive as possible.
"We were very grateful for Ebony taking the time to speak so openly about social change we should all be rooting for, and we will continue to strive to create a brighter future that shows more diversity in the landscape of sport and the media."
The Diversity in Digital Mentoring Programme was created to help educate, encourage and engage a cohort of diverse, talented individuals from around the UK, from under-represented groups across the sport and digital industries. Each week a guest speaker is invited to chat with the group to give insight on their career and life experiences, with the hope of inspiring this next generation of individuals to change the face of diversity in sport and the media.
Other guest speakers include the likes of Andy Stevenson, Development Producer at Whisper and former Channel 4 presenter, and Karthik Ramulu, Head of Sponsorship at DHL.