The English Soap Company Meets Willa Bailey
A couple of weeks ago we had the honour of sitting down with Willa Bailey from Lewes FC to talk to her about our sponsorship and the importance of Women’s football. Did you know Willa is one of the youngest female football directors in the country? Read the full interview to see why Lewes FC is paving the way for change.
1) Why did you get into football?
It’s quite hard to pinpoint the exact reason, football was all around me growing up and all the boys in my family were obsessed with the game, but it took many years for it to click for myself.
I started enjoying watching men’s football with my brother during my late school/early university years and was drawn in by the highs and the lows you get with supporting a team, nothing compares to it. My cousin started playing at university too – we’re close and she inspired me to get involved.
I started to take more notice of women’s football and was especially drawn to the social change element, women fighting adversity, trying and succeeding to change the game. They were committed to making sure that no other woman will feel the effects of the ban and go through the exclusion they did.
Being alongside other woman in football now means everything to me. We are hugely altering the perceptions of women’s potential, challenging what women are expected to achieve and what our ambitions can be in life. It makes me so proud to see female role models around me in sport.
As part of that feeling, actually playing football and taking up that space on a pitch makes me feel powerful and strong. I play 7-aside with friends, and I love the competition and the camaraderie – and I am so grateful to be doing something that, 50-odd years ago, we were banned from doing.
2) What is it about Lewes FC that you like and aligns with your values?
I think that beyond the obvious equality stance and the community powered nature of the club, it is the complete commitment to integrity and our values – they define all of our decisions. It’s special to be part of that. We all have a vision, and we won’t stop until we can change football for the better.
3) What are your ambitions for the club and where do you see the club in five years’ time?
Who knows what the football landscape will be like in five years’ time? One thing we all agree on is that sporting success is critical to our mission, and in football that means promotion is essential.
Off the pitch, we want our impact scaled up globally. Yes, we love to tell people that we are the only club to equally resource our men’s and women’s teams. But that’s not actually a good thing, to be the only one! We want to continue to set an example in the hope that other clubs will follow suit and realise the importance of equality.
Even so far as impressionable kids grow up devoting their life to a football club or team – it is concerning that they could be seeing their club not respecting their female players/ staff, or treating them differently from their male counterparts. It is why we chose to use the phrase “How do you tell your daughter she’s worth less than your son?” in our equality FC campaign video. These decisions have real-world consequences in people’s personal lives. Lewes is so wonderful because it sets an example to others, and I hope we continue to do that in the next 5 five years.
4) What’s the best thing about working for Lewes FC?
Seeing the impact on people in the community and people we engage with. I wrote my dissertation on the intersection between football and the community and I’m loving putting my ideas into practise. We have amazing female leaders at this club, on and off the pitch and I’m so glad to be part of a club that’s constantly evolving and pushing to be better.
5) What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
It’s a day for celebration – to shout from the rooftops about how proud we are to be women. It’s a day to take stock and realise how many barriers have been overcome to get where we are. It is also important to take this day further and think what more we need to do, we are so, so far from an equal world – and I hope in years to come we won’t need this type of occasion.
6) Why is it so important there is a zero gender pay gap?
At its core, the fact that you can be paid less because of your gender is completely unacceptable. Gender equality is still seen as a secondary priority by some, but female decision-making and diversity of thought can bring untold success. If you want to be successful in any industry, you need to respect and pay women equally – we have so much potential to bring. It isn’t appealing to have men in a boardroom making homogenous decisions anymore because they don’t reflect the world we live in – diversity is our biggest strength. The whole thing baffles me and it’s absurd that there’s still a gender pay gap.
7) Why is it important to engage and work with businesses that have a similar ethos?
I think that engaging with aligned brands is vital. Collaboration is such an amazing tool and if you are aligned you can capitalise on that. You can share expertise and knowledge which is so valuable. I also think working with brands that have a similar ethos is hugely important from a values perspective too. If you have a certain ethical or equality-led stance, then it is a no brainer to work with companies that are committed to these practises too – working together can benefit both organisations to achieve more and widen our reach.
8) Why is The English Company such a good fit with Lewes FC?
Well, we are both local organisations with global reach so that immediately connects us. I also think our values are very similar. Having a senior management team that is over 50% female is not easy. It signifies great strides are being taken and I salute The English Soap Company for bringing women on board and into the decision-making rooms. I really believe we can learn from each other. I also like the fact that it’s a strong local brand with a commitment to sustainability and also a family company which is in business for the right reasons.