For three decades former athlete-turned-leadership consultant Michelle Moore has impacted sport and business, by sharing her personal experiences and championing a progressive brand of conscious leadership.
South London born, Moore is a change-maker who leads with compassion and is passionate about effecting positive change. She has taken her work to leading organisations around the world, including the Commonwealth Games Federation, International Paralympic Committee, Sport England, and Premier League Football.
Multi award-winning Michelle offers a road map into sustainable development through sport, and is sought after for her insights into creating a sporting culture which fosters equity and equality.
Moore has been voted one of 50 most influential women in sport in the UK and also won a prestigious national Changemaker award in 2015. She is the winner of the 2016 UK Precious Award for ‘Outstanding Woman in Sport’, and won a prestigious Football Black List 2017 award.
Moore is a true all-rounder who holds key roles, including that of Diversity Advisor to the Women’s Sport Trust board, Trustee of the SportsAid charity, sits on the Sport England Talent Inclusion Advisory Board and is senior honorary associate lecturer for the University of Worcester.
She also consults to CEO’s, individuals and senior leadership teams in organisations to create solutions steeped in strategic insight and cultural context.
Moore talks to gsport Editor Kass Naidoo about how life experience introduced her to the power of resilience from an early age, and what she has done with her lived experience since then to significantly impact the lives of people around the world.
Delving deep into her life and career experience, Moore explains how she has been shaped into the leader she is today. Her story inspires women in leadership to break through glass ceilings, reach higher, and have the courage to use their voice to fight for change.
Michelle, you are a leader in your field, having invested years in your craft. How do you look back on the 30 years of experience you have gained across so many areas of sport and business?
I’ve held a range of posts and had many different management and leadership roles all with a focus to make a positive difference in the lives of others whether that’s through sport, community development or education.
“I believe we become truly powerful when we have enough self awareness about how we can transform ourselves and in so doing transforming others in our communities.” – Michelle Moore
I’m a failed athlete and, at one point in my career, I was a useless manager and leader. I’ve been on my own self-leadership journey, and have radically changed my way of leading and managing teams of people.
I love sport.
I’m thankful that following my passions through my work has meant that I have had some absolutely incredible experiences – from meeting and working with Olympic and Paralympic superstars, to working at a strategical level nationally- and internationally as an advocate and advisor, redressing inequalities in the leadership and governance of sport.
If someone met you for the first time, how would you describe yourself?
Because of my physical presence – being six foot two and unapologetic in using my voice to express my opinions, and as a black woman of mixed heritage, I’ve been labelled many things, from trouble maker to change maker. My hope is that I’m viewed as a kind and compassionate person who cares deeply about the world.
Tell us about your journey as an athlete and competing at county level in your youth.
From the age of 10 my twin sister, Francoise and I joined Herne Hill Harriers athletics club. I was a sprinter in my younger days and eventually became a 400m as a senior. We trained in a part of London – then known for its racism. We escaped some of the racist abuse our black friends were subjected to, because we were mixed race.
I’ve lost a lot of races! Described by my coaches as a ‘Trier’, and despite county success, I failed to reach international standards. When I was 16, competing for London at the England Schools Championships in the 400m, I lost a dramatic race-off. It was a loss I never recovered from, as I’d missed out on competing in the final.
“This was a defining moment, not only in my athletics career, but looking back on it, in my life.” – Michelle Moore
Athletics introduced me to the power of resilience. I’ve had a poster of the iconic 1968 salute by the famous African American sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith on my wall since age of 18, it reminds me of the importance of struggle and protest for better human rights for all, as part of the Olympic Human Rights Project.
I’ve had the honour of meeting Tommie and John and in 2017 – I interviewed Tommie Smith to an audience of hundreds of people. He taught me about the redemptive power of sacrifice which is only open to us when we truly understand who we are. It was a moment that will stay with me for a lifetime.
Where did your passion for sport come from?
My mum was a runner and my dad played squash and tennis. My mum joined the athletics club, and so did we. I wanted to feel part of something and athletics gave me that sense of identity and belonging. I wanted to be really good at something and I wanted to win. I was inspired by many of the greats – Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King and the ever so graceful Jamaican 400m sprint queen, Grace Jackson.
How would you describe the state of women’s sport and how much has it changed since you participated?
There has been huge strides in the media coverage of women’s sport with increasing audience attendances at live women’s sport as demonstrated by the success of the 2019 World Cup in France. Women’s sponsorship is small, but growing and becoming more developed. The visibility of female role models has increased considerably, but there is still a long way to go. And in popular culture, women’s sport is breaking into the mainstream.
The last five years has seen a new wave of sports activism, from the likes of Megan Rapinoe, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Caster Semenya, Bilqis Abdul Qaddir, Alysia Montano, Allyson Felix, Ada Hegerberg and Eniola Aluko, galvanised by some of the biggest social and political challenges of our times, from gender to racial and LGBTQ+ equality, intersectional discrimination, unequal pay, body image, working conditions, abuse and basic human rights.
This activism is a key driver for change in the sporting landscape for women’s sport and I think is hugely exciting.
“The visibility of female role models has increased considerably, but there is still a long way to go.” – Michelle Moore
Despite all this progress in women’s sport in the UK only 8% of teenage girls are doing enough physical activity. Critical factors include social stigma, lack of access, safety and lack of positive role models. Intersectional approaches to understanding the barriers that girls and young women face is critical in driving forward women’s sport, increasing participation and ensuring the benefits of sport and physical activity is accessible to all.
We know that girls participating in sport is key to gender equality as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and those that run sport need to do a better job at redressing inequalities for women and girls globally.
The value of women’s sport is still not widely recognised or accepted by big brands and investors, which I believe results in limited progress and sustainable investment.
Let’s be clear there is still a long way to go to ensure sport is accessible to all women. We only need to remember the courageous Sahar Khodayari, the Iranian football fan who burned to death in protest at Iran’s stance on women being denied access to football stadiums.
Once you left competitive sport, you took that energy into boardrooms and other significant institutions to promote the benefit of conscious leadership in business and sport. How did you find the transition from sport to business?
It was a natural transition as I wanted to be part of the solution to the issues as I saw them from lack of access to sport for minority groups to the lack of diverse representation in the administration and governance of sport in the UK.
Working on boards has been a challenge because of systemic racism and sexism – being heard and having my contribution valued and respected has been and continues to be hard fought. I’m inspired by the words of academic civil rights warrior and activist Angela Davis, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change… I’m changing the things I cannot accept.”
Where does your passion for conscious leadership come from?
I’ve experienced bereavement a number of times in my life, and I believe this changed my leadership style into a more compassionate and conscious style of leadership, adopting a more empathetic approach to life and my work with others.
Coming from a sporting background, I had very high standards. This worked well for me in the early stages of my career, but not when I became more senior and had to manage teams of people. I learnt to become a more compassionate and conscious leader – My motto is from Michelle Obama:
“People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.” – Michelle Obama
I enjoy working with women to help them understand their own self-leadership journeys. The best leaders understand the power in their own vulnerabilities and focus on creating environments where everyone’s is seen, heard and understood.
Diversity and inclusion has become a big focus area for many these days. Do you think we are approaching this change in the way that is seeing encouraging results?
Most Diversity and Inclusion initiatives can look and sound great and often are well meaning, but one of the biggest flaws is that most of them they are created by the people who are part of the problem.
Diversity and Inclusion initiatives fail to address how systems of oppression operate, initiatives rarely tackle the deep rooted structural inequalities at the heart of the problem. So real progress is slow and protracted.
Sport is one of the most monocultural industries in the UK, disappointingly lagging behind business, law, government and industry. The UK Sports industry systematically denies opportunities, marginalises minority groups and reinforces prejudices and stereotypes.
“I believe sport generally urgently needs greater ethnic, gender and LGBTI+ and disability and diverse representation reflected in its leadership and governance, to create meaningful change.” – Michelle Moore
I’m impatient for change. Those in leadership and privileged positions are not prepared to share or give up their power. The leaders that are prepared to be part of meaningful action when it comes to inclusive and conscious leadership are the ones that truly understand that they have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Women often have to deal with the glass ceiling effect. How do we break through?
I think it’s about setting our own boundaries and figuring out what success looks like on our terms and then navigating those spaces understanding that the difference we bring is the unique offering we have. We need to practice self care as we navigate daily micro aggressions of being a woman and especially if you’re a woman of colour as renowned poet and activist Audre Lorde says, ‘Caring for myself is not self indulgence, it is self preservation and that is an act of political warfare.’
As a former athlete, I know and whole heartedly believe in the power of mindset and visualisation.
So my recommendation is to define what success looks like for you, and hold yourself accountable to this rather than an organisation’s limited gendered and racialised expectation.
You have been to South Africa before. Tell us about your visit here?
I visited Cape Town in 2007 with my twin sister Francoise. We both enjoyed the stunning landscape and meeting school children in Khayelitsha as we spent time in St Marion RC Secondary School.
We also visited a church, a township, took the trip to Robben Island and experienced the mystic and beauty of Table Mountain.
“These experiences had a big impact on me, as a former teacher and a black woman of mixed heritage talking to the St Marion girls about their lives was very moving.” Michelle Moore
We created lifetime memories on our trip. I’ll never forget the stories the Robben Island tour guide and former inmate shared with us – It was a humbling day to see where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. South Africa made a big impression on me. I know some day that I will return.
What is your advice to South African women working in sport about race relations and building on the Rainbow Nation?
Big question – one I’m not qualified to answer. My message for women working in sport is to stand strong in understanding what you bring to the table, do the work of self-awareness, and redefine the boundaries on your terms.
And to remember that resistance is just part of the journey, and when you really truly understand this, when it shows up you can just label it as that and then figure out what we need to get the task done.
And finally as Maya Angelou says, ‘Each time a woman stands up for herself without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.’ I believe in this and have seen powerful results when this happens.
When women support women we leverage and maximise our collective power and self-determination, and become formidable!
How are you finding working in Corona Virus times?
I’m taking one day at a time as I find way my though these strange days. Some days it’s a challenge. I know and recognise the privilege I and many others around me have in being able to physically distance and socially isolate. Some of my work has been postponed, like my international speaking engagements. I continue to work with my coaching clients, helping them to achieve their goals.
“I’m spending time on ‘Being’ and ‘Receiving’ right now – I’m focused on supporting my family and my well-being rituals.” – Michelle Moore
I’m practising more meditation that for me often brings bigger questions around purpose and what’s really important in life and visioning how my work can have greater impact. I am also listening and tuning into lots of amazing content from well-being and business leaders.
In response to COVID-19 I’ve joined a new collaboration Inclusion Under Pressure to offer support to professionals who take inclusion seriously.
As part of being of service to my community both in the UK and internationally during this time, I’m providing free coaching and mentoring to people who are interested in talking with me.
Many will be faced with career transitions now. What is the best approach when faced with this?
To get clear about what you want to do, or are prepared to do, if you have to take a role you might not necessarily want to take. My advice would be to do a two- to five year plan on what you would like your life to look like, and work backwards from that.
Research companies you would like to work for, start engaging with them on social media platforms, redo your CV (use Canva for cool templates), spend time on your LinkedIn profile and ask your network for feedback about what’s missing from what they know of you.
Make a plan and stick to it by asking a friend to hold you accountable to it. Find the contact person for the role and pick up the phone and talk to them about a potential role you’re interested in, to get to really understand it and make your first powerful and positive impression. Start before you’re ready!
What is your one wish for women leaders?
To go all in when the time is right and manage your well-being and mindset as positively as possible. To embrace all your vulnerabilities and be your authentic self, because everyone else is taken. To remember that you don’t have to fight every fight, and that success is yours to define and redefine as part of your self-leadership journey. That you can set your own boundaries where you get to feel fearless and emboldened. You’ve got this!
What is the one thing you know about yourself now that you wish you knew when you started your journey in sport?
That I am enough, that my offering to the world is mine and mine alone, and in its difference it has power and impact.
What would you still like to achieve?
To increase my speaking and advocacy work internationally and to continue to make a difference, to work with more women in a coaching and mentoring capacity.
To be part of driving forward inclusive and socially conscious leadership which has a meaningful and practical impact in the world.
To continue to grow and develop professionally and personally on my leadership journey.
To be the best sister, daughter, friend and coolest auntie and, most importantly, to help my netball team to win the league!
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