‘Global Gamechangers’ showcases powerful stories of women across business, sport and the arts, who are shaking things up, blazing new trails, and changing the playing field.  

As part of the ‘Global Gamechangers’ programme, author and broadcast journalist Louise Minchin spoke to four-time Olympic sprinter Donna Fraser OBE about her roles within sport and business, and how she feels about being an agent of change. Here are some of the highlights from her inspiring interview.

LM: Welcome, Donna. You’ve been awarded an OBE. You are the definition of a global game-changer. What does that phrase mean to you, and how do you see yourself as an agent of change?

DF: It’s interesting, I don’t see myself as that. I’ve had such a humble upbringing. My parents always said, “Remember the people that you meet on the way up and you’ll meet the same people on the way down.”

Whatever I do, it’s just really for positive change. I don’t think about the labelling or having that title whatsoever, but obviously I’m honoured if that is what I am being labelled as.

As a businesswoman and a female athlete, you must have faced lots of different barriers. How have those intersected or overlapped with other challenges that perhaps seem unrelated to gender, for example? 

That’s such an interesting question. I always said athletics was such a diverse sport and inclusive, so I wouldn’t have seen so many barriers. It’s only now that I’m outside of the sport that I see it.  

One turning point was the transition of going from an athlete to being in business. It was really difficult for me to change the narrative, where people saw me as just Donna the athlete, rather than Donna — that I have a brain as well as being an athlete. So, I spent a long time changing that narrative, just proving my worth.  

The theme of the 2023 International Women’s Day is ’embrace equity’. So, what does that mean for you? 

We often get confused with equality and equity. Equality is having the same opportunities across the board, but equity is really understanding that people need different support. And once you do that, you achieve equality. So, in effect, they go hand in hand.

There are more women in boardrooms than there have been before. Is that a sign of things moving in a positive direction?  

Oh, they absolutely are. I think it’s great to see that businesses are taking EDI really seriously. When I started in this field, it was the fluffy stuff, it was a nice-to-have. Now, it’s a must-have. It’s happening in our daily lives, and we need to embrace it. Having senior leaders taking it seriously on the top of their agendas is driving it forward and that’s why we’re seeing that change. But there is still more to be done. 

Tell me about your training as a world-class athlete. How did that prepare you for the boardroom. I imagine it must have done in some ways? 

Absolutely. As an athlete, you are just aiming for the highest possible performance, whether that’s Olympics, Commonwealth, whatever that may be. And along that way, you develop so many skills that you take for granted. Determination, aiming for excellence, time management, there are so many soft skills that I’ve developed that just come natural to me, that many people would have to go on courses for. So, I’m grateful for that. 

And being a strong female role model, did you have role models that you looked up to when you were growing up and through your younger years? 

You probably haven’t got long enough for me to tell you the long list, but I meet role models every single day. The main ones are my parents. Even though my dad was surrounded by all girls, he was a female ally. He absolutely was an advocate for his girls. My mom, they both came over to this country in the early ’60s, had their own battles and barriers in front of them. So, they inspired me to just go for whatever I wanted.  

And my sister, who was always by my side through my athletics career, pushing me. She went from being a dental nurse to being a lawyer. So that change of jobs inspired me too; the sky’s the limit. 

International Women’s Day 2024 

For International Women’s Day 2024, ITN Business will be showcasing the organisations and individuals that are actively working to close the gender health gap and improve health outcomes for women — in ‘Women’s Health: The Future We Deserve‘.

Presented by Louise Minchin, the programme will cover key themes including FemTech, workplace health, and reproductive medicine.