Fern Whelan, former Lioness and PFA Women’s Football EDI Executive, has spoken to The Athletic about the lack of diversity across the women’s game, but insists there are ‘reasons to be optimistic’ about the future.
During the 2021/22 season, the PFA estimated that only 10% of players in the WSL were from Black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds. While this figure appears to have increased slightly, a visual lack of any non-white players in some WSL line-ups this season has sparked a wider conversation about the need for diverse talent in the women’s top flight.
Speaking to The Athletic, Whelan said: “We have a brutally visual lack of role models for these young girls that are coming up. If you look at the league, you will see a lot of white players. If you’re a young Black girl, you might think, ‘Where do I fit in that world? Is it for me?’”
Whelan has led the players’ union’s See It. Achieve It. programme, an initiative dedicated to creating a network of WSL players with diverse backgrounds to mentor the next generation of female talent in the game.
Manchester City's Bunny Shaw and Demi Stokes were involved in the inaugural See It. Achieve It. event in October, with girls from local schools and clubs invited to take part in coaching sessions by PFA coaches and a Q&A session with the WSL players about their football journeys.
See It. Achieve It. forms part of the PFA’s wider commitment to elevate and support diverse role models in the women’s game.
Whelan believes the issue of diversity is one that the wider football community is also more alive to and focused on addressing. “The good part of it now is that the game isn’t blind to it. It’s not something that’s getting pushed under the carpet. It’s something that stakeholders are working hard to try and address and solve.
“It’s really promising to see how much talent there is in some of the under-21 and under-16 squads that are coming through from Black, mixed heritage and minority ethnic groups. It might not look like it at the moment, but there are real strides being made. There is reason to be optimistic.”
The next PFA See It. Achieve It. event will be hosted at Aston Villa in November, with another cohort of local girls set to be joined by PFA coaches and WSL stars.