Karen Dobres and the board of directors, Lewes Football Club

Culture Pioneers

Lewes Football Club is a fantastic model of inclusion for their peers to follow. They have helped tackle the gender pay gap, and have introduced a number of new ideas and schemes to help achieve their goal of making women’s match-days inclusive for everyone. Their tireless efforts really impressed our judges, and saw them crowned the winner of the 2021 Culture Pioneer of Inclusion.

After becoming community-owned, Lewes Football Club (LFC) was the first football club in the world to assign equal playing budgets, raising the women's budget to match the men's.

Elected co-director Karen Dobres shared how LFC worked hard against the sexism that pervades sport today by welcoming unwelcome women to the game and attracting sponsors who align their message.

LFC drew attention to the gender-based prize gap in the FA Cup when the men's team won £3.6m and the women’s team £25K. They questioned why women don’t play on the main pitch or get as much training kit, good quality coaches or decent hotels for away games. Lewes FC equal budget ensures that the women's teams are equal to the men’s in all of these areas.

LFC’s board achieved a mandate to resource men and women players equally. Its ‘Equality FC’ campaign featured footage of girls playing hard on the pitch and a male fan asking: ‘How do you tell your daughter she’s worth less than your son?’, explaining that Lewes was doing this so that no parent in the future would have to tell their daughters they were worth less than their brothers.

It is not only funding and exposure, LFC has also taken steps to create a far more inclusive and welcoming environment for the matches themselves.

These changes have ranged from offering more diverse and vegan-friendly dining options at the stadium, to football chanting practice. 

The above steps have helped to modernise the football-going experience at LFC and distance the club from the historic male-dominated, lad culture associated with football fans.

The work that LFC have put in has more than paid dividends – with attendance for the women’s matches having increased by 388% to the point that they are only marginally lower than the men’s team, who have also seen a 36% increase.

What our judges thought

“Lewes Football Club is a worthy winner of the 2021 Culture Pioneer of Inclusion Award. The board of directors tackled inclusion head-on, making it a real game-changer not just for the players but for the whole industry, by role modelling what is possible when willing to challenge the established order and mindsets."

Shakil Butt, Culture Pioneers Judge and Founder of HR Hero for Hire

"At Lewes Football Club it's not just talk, it's action. One thing that stood out about Karen's entry was that it's a big business commitment to say the club is going to split its resources equitably amongst men and women's football and, as a result, the gate numbers were quadrupled."

Laura Overton, Culture Pioneers Judge, award winning industry analyst and CoFounder of Emerging Stronger

Find out how the other award winners made stand out achievements and contributions to pushing culture change.