Whilst coverage of women’s football has increased in recent years, what often goes unnoticed are the hundreds of women who play a vital role in the day-to-day functions of professional clubs and organisations.

In a brand new feature series, Kick It Out will be speaking to women who work within football – in a number of roles including coaching, club executives, photographers, administrators, matchday staff and more – to celebrate and gain an insight into their contributions to the professional game.

The feature will discuss their experiences of the game, how they reached where they are today and any challenges they may have faced along the way.

In the second of a two-part interview, Hala Ousta, Diversity Manager at the Scottish FA, spoke to Kick It Out about the organisation’s role in promoting equality in the game, her concerns about the ‘Rooney Rule’ and empowering the next generation of women to work in football and beyond.

Despite improvements in the diversity of football’s workforce in recent years, significant sections of the industry remain largely male-dominated.

But does Hala feel that being a Muslim woman working in football has held her back?

“To be honest, not really. For me, it’s about initiating a cultural shift where I challenge perceptions and aspire to act as a full citizen without allowing barriers and stereotypes to affect me. I think it’s the mind-set and attitude that I’ve got – I go and fight for the opportunities and make sure my voice is heard.

“I’m one of the first ethnic minority females that’s been employed by the Scottish FA, which is a very positive development for both myself and the organisation, in terms of its diversity approach.”

It’s that drive and motivation which makes it no surprise that Hala was recently chosen as one of the UK’s ‘30 under 30 – Sport Industry Group Next Gen Leaders 2017’, which identifies the rising industry stars.

In addition to that success, it is her experience in overcoming initial concerns and pushback from elements of the community which is a testament to her attitude.

“I think there’s a respect towards what I’m doing now,” she said. “When I’m going out into communities, I feel that whether it’s boys or girls, they all recognise that to improve themselves they have to respect everybody and develop their skills and mindset.”

A shift in attitude towards Hala has coincided with a more inclusive approach to equality by many of the people she engages with in her job.

She explained: “We’re working a lot with diverse groups and we have been delivering an annual multicultural football festival for the last few years. On the cup, we had Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces and just to even open up the conversation about LGBT issues within the ethnic and faith communities was another thing that wouldn’t have happened before either.

“So there is a new found recognition of inclusion for all, not just certain characteristics – it’s about promoting that mutual respect and equality, which is something that I’m starting to see more of.”

As someone with substantial experience in understanding both the policy and legal aspects of equality, Hala’s attention is not focused solely on her day-to-day work; she takes a keen interest in issues around inclusion and tackling discrimination across the UK and Europe.

A subject discussed on a regular basis in recent years has been the lack of BAME managers and coaches securing positions within the game. But there are no quick fixes, she says

“I’m not a fan of the Rooney Rule. For me it’s too tokenistic because it’s only guaranteeing someone an interview but then after that, you can appoint whoever you want anyway. I think it’s quite dangerous in that it’s something that comes under positive discrimination, which is actually illegal within the UK under the Equality Act.”

Hala continued: “It would be more positive action measures that I’d like to focus on, so maybe have different training programmes or positive action initiatives to bring those who want to apply up to the same standard, so they can compete at the same standard.”

Positive action is a word she uses regularly and provides an insight into her thoughts on how football can encourage more women to get involved in the industry.

“I think we need to raise awareness of opportunities and empower women to get involved, by speaking to them and having consultations to find out what would suit them,” she remarked. “I think mentors are a good idea as well, women who do reach those levels, whether it’s at senior management or boardroom level, can provide that support.

“I think it was at a FIFA Women in Leadership Conference that I went to a while ago that someone said ‘send the elevator back down’ – look for women who have just come through and are trying to get a leg up in the industry, help them out and that’s something that I’m quite passionate about in Scotland.”

Those aren’t just vague platitudes either – Hala is firmly committed to supporting other women’s progress in football and beyond.

She is the Founder and Chair of Inspiring Women Scotland, set up to ‘promote empowerment and leadership for multicultural young women’. There are six women on the board of the organisation, each from a different background who can offer unique advice and guidance for a range of women in different industries across Scotland.

Hala explained: “For me it’s about finding these multicultural women who have overcome those barriers, who are successful in their careers and haven’t stopped, and using them to feedback to other girls and young women within the communities to share those experiences and empower them as active citizens.

“You’ve got your rights as a citizen, but you’ve also got your responsibilities so you can’t sit and cry and say ‘I’m not getting opportunities, nobody’s talking to me.’ It’s about empowering them to fight for those opportunities, not just to stop at the first hurdle and take no as the answer.”

Turning her attention to Kick It Out, she praised the work the organisation does in tackling discrimination in England.

“Kick It Out is a respected organisation within England, whether it’s raising awareness or working with the clubs to achieve the Equality Standard or Code of Practice, so I think that’s something that’s really positive.

“But another important aspect is the reporting structure – that’s something that we don’t have in Scotland and we would love to have.”

With Hala’s ambition matched only by her hard work and determination to promote equality in Scotland, you wouldn’t bet against her achieving that goal.