Celebrate the remarkable achievements of women - BE's Brandie Deignan

Brandie Deignan sits on the Basketball England Board of Directors and chairs the organisation’s equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) committee.  

She is currently CEO in NHS primary care, responsible for a partnership of GP practices that delivers healthcare across North Somerset, but priorly worked as managing director (MD) at Marco Pierre White Restaurants, cementing her 20 years’ experience in the consumer service delivery industry, across hospitality, retail and aviation; holding senior leadership positions at British Airways Plc, Tesco Plc, Whitbread Plc, Travelodge and Hilton Hotels, where she started her career as a graduate trainee. 

Deignan was the first black female MD within branded restaurant groups in the UK and she was named as one of the ‘top 15 BAME’ high-fliers in the travel and tourism sector and was a finalist at the Black British Business Awards. She was also voted 41st in the top 50 listening leaders and was nominated in the National Diversity Awards for being a positive role model for gender diversity. Recently, she was nominated in the West Country Women’s awards for equality and diversity. 

For International Women’s Day, Deignan has penned her thoughts on why she’s passionate about ED&I, how her unique voice has cut through the adversity she’s faced and how she hopes to shape basketball in England.  

I love International Women’s Day. It’s that one day the world pauses to celebrate the remarkable achievements of women. 

It also serves as a reminder of the ongoing fight for gender equality and the challenges women still face worldwide.  

This year’s theme makes my heart smile because ‘inspiring inclusion’ is that feeling of belonging and we can all commit to encouraging that in our lives. 

  • We can all openly embrace each visible and invisible diversity, whether that’s age, generation, race, socio-economic background, ethnicity, religion, nationality, mental and physical ability, how people identify, their caring responsibilities, etc. 
  • We can all do our part to upraise and elevate women and girl's participation and achievement in basketball 
  • We can all help with designing and building infrastructure that meets the needs of women and girls 
  • When women aren't present, we must all ask: ‘why not?’ 
  • And when the treatment of women is not equitable and we observe this, we must act 

When you stop to reflect on the above and more, it’s not a big ask is it?  

For me, inspiring inclusion is a mindset. Once we lock that in, the rest becomes easy. 

Basketball is ready 

Basketball is a cool, non-exclusive game.  

Fact: Basketball is the joint-second most played sport in the UK after football. The sport has engagement. 

Fact: Basketball is rated in the top three of the world’s most popular sports. Globally the sport is loved. 

Fact: Basketball has on average of just under 100,000 searches on Google a month, that is over 3,000 searches a day and around 139 searches an hour, equating to around 2 searches every minute. People are curious about the sport. 

BE recently topped the race representation index and was applauded for its working practices. This is a high bar. So, the biggest challenge for the NGB is sustainability, owning this great achievement, and not being afraid to give up the ‘great’ to go for excellence.   

That step includes addressing access and participation. We have proven that there are little to no socio-economic barriers per say to playing the sport. We have also proven the sport is loved. We also know people are curious about the sport. So, here is my difficulty – why are we not the top team sport in the UK or at least closing the gap to football. Are we missing a trick here? I want to find out.   

I know I can make a difference here. I am not starting from ground zero; so much has already been initiated at Basketball England, and all I need to do is navigate us effectively. I am not interested in a sport that is not ready to move along. Basketball is ready. 

Influence and approach 

I want to influence BE’s governance and approach to ED&I in three ways.  

The first is to capture the moments that matter.  

What I mean by this is the distinction between theory vs application. Are we actually doing what is right at BE? Do we have a compelling, effective way to reach everyone in the basketball community in an equitable, diverse, inclusive way that means we all feel like we belong and feel like we have been treated equal? Are we reflecting lived experiences? Are we measuring our successes or indeed checking to see if they are working? Or are we just ticking boxes? 

Then it’s behaviours. What is the plan we are working on to drive inclusion? Is it workable? Are we doing too much? Are we doing too little? What are we prioritising? Do we have underlying behaviours that embed inclusion in all areas of the sport?

Once we know all this, we can set targets and objectives, avoid platitudes, and go intentionality where we lack focus. 

Thirdly, I would like to start all the difficult conversations we need to be having. We will always have assumptions about intent. I want to move away from this and start with listening. The art of conversation lies in listening, right? It’s important we have clarity, but we can’t do this if we are not listening. Only after this point can conversations lead to action.  

Watch Brandie in conversation with Future Youth Committee member Esha Nayar

It can be lonely at the top 

Being a black woman in the top room can be a lonely experience.  

For context, I have spent much of my career being the only woman in the top room. Being a black woman is another category.  

I have faced a lot of obstacles throughout my journey. At times it’s been horrid, however the adversity has pushed me to find my own unique voice and I am now full of hope and gratitude.  

What can organisations do? Well, representation matters. So let’s start there, reflecting the communities we serve:  

  • Let’s provide mentors and reverse mentors across boards in organisations 
  • Next, let’s empathise and have empathetic leaders 
  • Next, let’s create safe spaces in organisations so people can speak out 
  • Next, let’s not invite people in organisations and then try and mould them to suit us 
  • Big next? Role modelling is key. Let’s call out bad behaviours when we see this happening 
  • Finally, and my favourite, let’s remember the glass cliff does exist and we need to be mindful of this for women in senior leadership 

ED&I is a marathon 

No matter the acronyms you use, DEI, EDI, IDE, equality, diversity and inclusion simply means:  

  • Equality – to treat everyone the same regardless of their starting point or their needs 
  • Diversity – representation across a wide range of traits, backgrounds, thinking and experiences 
  • Inclusion – the practice of including people in a way that is fair for all; values everyone's differences, and empowers and enables each person to be themselves and achieve their full potential and thrive 

I also like to add equity and belonging to the mix because a key shortcoming of equality is that it can be blind people to the historical and structural disadvantages of different members in our communities and in doing so can perpetuate disparities. 

  • Equity – fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement for everyone. One’s identity/circumstances (known and unknown) cannot predict outcomes 
  • Belonging – the level of security and comfortability we feel wherever we are, and how we are accepted, supported and included 

ED&I is a marathon, its everyone’s problem if we want sustainability, and that should be our strategic imperative.