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On the field and in the boardroom

JLL’s Helen Gough explains why sport could be a game changer for women in business

The next time you're in a board meeting, take a look around the table and notice how balanced the gender ratio is. How many women did you count? It is fair to say that the scale often tips in favour of men, particularly in the property sector and even more specifically, in construction.

While notable improvements have been made to balance the status quo across real estate, more still needs to be done. With this realisation, I am on a mission to shake things up for the better. The introduction of JLL's Women's Network, for which I am Chair, was established to ensure that its women are encouraged, supported and inspired to excel. In order to foster the next generation of female leaders, the Women's Network Committee invites an inspirational role model from the outside world to its Warwick Street office to speak about their career experiences. Last week we welcomed British skeleton racer and 2014 Olympic gold medallist, Lizzy Yarnold (MBE) who cemented her place in sporting history by winning every major title in her sport in 407 days. Lizzy, who has a regular column on the BBC Sports website and is a guest presenter on the BBC Inspire Programme, was also nominated for the 2014 BBC's Sports Personality of the Year. With such a string of impressive achievements, Lizzy offered great insights into the world of women's sport which excited and motivated female as well as male employees.

For me the world of sports is a lot like business. Training, hard work, competition, dedication, success and failure all form part of the job. The sporting world, made up of hard working and ambitious athletes, is one I believe youngsters and entrepreneurs both male and female can draw motivation from. Michael Phelps, Olympic medal winning swimmer once said: "You can't put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get." This powerful message is one I want all JLL employees to remember.

Key qualities developed in sport such as leadership, negotiation and team building skills are integral to success in business. Interestingly, research released by EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW showed that a background in sport can help fast-track a woman's leadership and career potential, and has a positive influence on hiring decisions. Based on an online survey of 400 female executives across four continents, 74 percent agreed that a background in sport can help accelerate a woman's career. Close to two-thirds (61%) said that past sporting involvement had contributed to their current career achievements while 67 percent said that a background in sport had a positive influence on their decision to hire a candidate. On a personal level, I know how valuable my passion for sailing has been in shaping my professional life. Racing across the Atlantic in a Clipper race ten years ago raised a real sense of courage and determination in me. Much like being in business, I had to battle through some pretty heavy weather miles from anyone else but my ability to keep calm and make tactical decisions amongst a fleet of ten similar boats enabled me to secure a winning result.

Empowering women in sport has become a real topic of conversation over the past few years, particularly following the London Olympic Games in 2012. Undoubtedly, businesses today are beginning to realise the value of women's sport as an uplifting commodity to invest in, which I believe is a great step towards gender equality in an industry where women's power and influence over sport has historically been pretty minimal. The 'This Girl Can' national campaign developed by Sport England and a wide range of partnership organisations is a great example of celebrating active women across the UK who are engaging in sport and fitness. This campaign sends a positive message to British women that their looks and performance should never be barriers to realising their ambitions.

The JLL Women's Network realises that role models are an extraordinarily important way to encourage women to aspire to great things and there is no doubt in my mind that Lizzy's visit did just that. Let's continue changing the game and championing the right for women to be on the field as well as in the boardroom.