In my research I have interviewed Athletic Directors (ADs) on their best practices in recruiting, hiring and retaining women coaches. [to read the full report, click here.] Nearly all of them stated they want to hire “the best” for an open position. The best person, the best fit, the best qualified, the best (i.e., a winner, successful, track record of success), the best of the best! ADs are competitive people, and rightly so! “The best” is part of their everyday language, and not being the best means your job may be on the line.
However, what is not readily apparent in “the best” narrative is the underlying gender bias and gender stereotypes that affect how leadership is valued, perceived, and evaluated.
Stereotypes and gender bias are inherent in constructing and reinforcing what a real leader ‘looks like’ and ‘does.’ For example, what it means and has meant historically “to coach”—being assertive and in control, aggressive, ambitious, confident, competitive, powerful, dominant, forceful, self-reliant and individualistic—are characteristics typically associated with men and masculinity. This identity of the ideal/best coach is reinforced by society and the media, where coaches are constructed and held up as heroes and the male coach is a symbol and ultimate expression of the idealized form of masculine character.
Therefore when ADs state they want “the best” coach, this statement automatically privileges and favors male coaches over women, whether intended or not. However, “the best” might also be a coded way ADs can talk about hiring women without
putting themselves or the institution at risk for gender-based discrimination litigation by male applicants.
Clearly, a complex set of conscious and unconscious inferences are contained within persistent and common “hire the best” narratives among college Athletics Directors. The pervasive “best” narrative illuminates the need for bias training and awareness that bias has a potential impact on the perception, recruitment, evaluation and hiring (and firing) of women coaches.
Happy International Women’s Day 2018!
This is the fifth part of my Changing the Narrative for Women Sport Coaches blog series.
This one will be brief! I often hear that “women don’t want to move their families” as a reason why there are fewer female head coaches. To my knowledge, and I will stand corrected, there is NO empirical data to support this assumption.
Are women less likely to move their families than men? Maybe. Maybe Not.
This is why it matters. When this narrative is repeated over and over, it becomes truth and then in turn it begins to affect how women are evaluated, perceived and interacted with in the recruiting and hiring process.
- Will an AD spend as much time and effort recruiting a mother-coach if he/she believes the woman will not, or doesn’t want to, move her family?
- Will an AD interact differently with a male candidate who is perceived to be more eager to move than a female candidate (because the “not moving” narrative is taken as fact)?
- Does an AD not actively recruit ALL parent-coaches (mothers AND fathers), compared to coaches without children?
There are many questions, and very little data about this particular narrative. While data is collected, I hope that it will be put to rest until it is proven or refuted.
I recently had the opportunity to give the Tucker Center’s Distinguished Lecture where I laid our current and historical data on the Paradox, Pitfalls & Parity: Where Have all the Women Coaches Gone? You can watch the lecture here (I start about 14mns in, so fast forward!!)
A puzzling paradox exists when it comes to women occupying sport leadership positions—particularly coaches. Two generations removed from Title IX, female sports participation is at an all-time high, yet the number of women coaches is near an all-time low. At the college level alone, female coaches are in the minority, representing just 43% of all head coaching positions in women’s sports nationwide. It is simply not possible that as each new generation of females becomes increasingly involved in and shaped by their sport experience—especially at the most elite levels of competition as evidenced by the dominance of the U.S. female athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics—they simultaneously become less qualified to enter the coaching profession.
In this lecture I answered three questions I frequently get about women in sports coaching:
1. Why do women coaches matter? Why should we care?
2. Why is there a stagnation in the under-representation of women coaches?
3. What can we do about it?
Here is a different twist on March Madness 2015.
It is pure Madness! (in a good way) that:
- the ESPN coverage of the NCAA D-I women’s basketball tournament is well produced so that we can actually SEE these amazing female athletes and their coaches
- a majority of the head coaches of women’s basketball are women. In the Women in College Coaching Research Series, 62.8% of head coaches of women’s basketball in the 86 “big time” NCAA D-I schools (many of which are in the tournament) are women.
Based on the 2014-15 data in the Women in College Coaching Research Series, I took the remaining 2015 Sweet 16 teams and filled out the bracket based on the percent of women’s teams at that institution which had a female head coach (see Figure 1). With that data, Maryland and Florida State would be Co-National NCAA D-I Champions (coached by Brenda Frese and Sue Semrau respectively), due to the fact 54.5% of all their women’s teams at both institutions are coached by a woman head coach. Madness!
Madness! Of note, 13 of the Sweet 16 women’s teams (81.3%) have a female head coach–that is an over-representation of women head coaches for the best teams in the nation, than are found in women’s D-I basketball in general, given the stat I stated before (62.8%). The Sweet 16 stat is a really interesting stat in that 29 of 64 teams (45.3%) in the full bracket are coached by a female head coach. Based on the data, it appears the female head coaches are proportionately outperforming their male coaching colleagues and are represented in a larger percentage in the Sweet 16, than the initial pool of women coaches in the bracket. More Madness!
And there are many other competent women head coaches represented in earlier rounds, such as Princeton coach Courtney Banghart, whose undefeated 31-0 team lost to Maryland in a hard fought game which was written about by USA Today columnist Christine Brennan.
To break the tie and declare a national champion, we (thanks Marnie Kinnaird!) looked at the gender composition of the coaching staffs for the Sweet 16 women’s basketball teams (see Figure 2 below).
We weighted the score by position, if a woman occupied the position a school earned the following points: Head Coach = 3pts, Associate (Head) Coach = 2pts, Assistant Coach = 1pt. Males in any position earned zero points. We counted only 4 coaching positions for each institution (except for UNC who had 5).
Based on the data in Figure 2, Notre Dame and Arizona State tied for the “win” with 8pts each (due to the fact both programs have 2 Associate Coaches, which are weighted more heavily than an Assistant Coach, therefore giving them the lead), and Stanford and Iowa tied for second place with 7pts each. Notwithstanding Notre Dame, Arizona State, Stanford and Iowa share an interesting stat–the coaching staff is comprised of all women.
Meaning 4 of the Sweet 16 teams (25%) are coached by all women–prime examples of women mentoring women. Madness!
This data did not break the Co-National Champs tie…both Maryland & Florida State had 5pts! (mini madness!)
Seeing powerful, successful female role models, athletes and coaches, on TV matters!
It provides proof that women can be successful at the highest levels in the coaching profession. It provides visibility to young girls and women who aspire to play college athletics and who may aspire to continue following their love and passion in sport by coaching. It provides evidence and gives boys and young men a picture that women can be, and are, leaders. So thanks to ESPN and espnW for providing excellent coverage, content and production value, so that these amazing women athletes and their coaches can be seen for the role models they are. So here’s to more Madness!
p.s.-If you have an idea on how to break the tie between Maryland and Florida State, tweet me @DrSportPsych
To honor National Girls and Women in Sport Day, I decided to release the annual Women in College Coaching Report Card. This research series is a collaboration between the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, and the Alliance of Women Coaches.
We gave espnW’s Kate Fagan the exclusive first-run story in which she summarizes some of the key findings-Women Coaching Women? Big-Time Schools Grade Out Terribly.
Here are the 2014-15 data I think are important and noteworthy.
- The percentage of head coaches of women’s teams increased .6% from last year (net gain of +6 female coaches out of 969) to 40.2%
- Two schools (Cincinnati & U Central Florida) out of 86 were awarded A’s (70-100% women head coaches = A)
- An equal number of schools (n=11) got As and Bs as got Fs
- The percentage of institutions receiving Fs has increased every year (0-24% = F)
- 2012-13: 10.5%, 2013-14: 11.8%, 2014-15: 12.9%
- One school had zero female head coaches (Xavier)
- Field hockey had 100% female head coaches, water polo and alpine skiing had 0%
- None of the 7 “big time” conferences in our sample were awarded an A or B.
- 85 head coaching positions turned over from last year, 61% of the time a male was hired to replace the outgoing coach.
Take home messages.
Overall, in the three years we have done the report no remarkable gains or losses in the percentage of women head coaches of women’s teams in the biggest college athletics programs have been realized. In fact the percentage in this year’s report 2014-15 is the exact same as it was in the first year of the report in 2012-13. So depending on how one looks at the data, the glass can be half full or half empty. We aren’t gaining ground, but we also are not losing more ground. Based on the data, whether we look at conference, sport or institution, a great deal of room for improvement exists in terms of hiring women head coaches at the institutions that are most visible in the sport media landscape and culturally valued for their athletics.
This data is important given what some scholars are calling “college athletics’ war on women coaches” as it provides a mechanism of accountability at the institutional level, stimulates awareness, generates dialogue, and perhaps creates social change on the scarcity of women head coaches and why that matters for athletes, coaches, institutions and coaching organizations.
To read more about the historic decline of women in the coaching profession, why women coaches matter and why diversity in the workplace matters, read our past reports here and here. To read my other blogs about women in sport coaching, a topic a frequently write about, click here.
Some of you may not know who Shannon Miller is, but those of us in The State of Hockey (Minnesota) do. Shannon Miller was a highly successful women’s hockey coach at University of Minnesota-Duluth where her teams have won five NCAA championships, she developed 28 current and former Olympians, and amassed a .713 winning percentage. I say “was” because on 12/16/2014 Miller was fired in the middle of her season (her contract was not renewed for 2015-16) because she got paid too much. Miller was the highest paid women’s hockey coach in the country at $215,000, largely because she is one of the best. Miller’s counterpart, the head men’s hockey coach at UMD makes $235,000, and still has his job.
In a story posted on MPR Athletic Director Josh Berlo was quoted as saying, “She established a winning program, raised it to the highest level of competition and sustained a national championship tradition over the last 15 years. Today’s decision about Shannon’s contract was an immensely difficult and financially driven decision. Unfortunately, UMD Athletics is not in a position to sustain the current salary levels of our women’s hockey coaching staff.”
1. First it is public knowledge that UMD is “in serious financial trouble” and faces $5M+ budget shortfall. Is saving $45,000 by firing Miller really going to make a significant difference? They have to pay a new coach. Minnesota’s highly successful head women’s hockey coach Brad Frost makes $170,000 and in this article the salaries of Miller’s male colleagues are stated. Miller was willing, but not given the option, to take a pay cut. In sum, her firing is really not about money.
2. If it were about money, let’s look at the Equity in Athletic Data Analysis (EADA numbers) for UMD that clearly show that there is significantly more money being spent on the men’s hockey team, compared to the women’s team. In fact, the budget for men’s hockey is $533,322 (including coach salaries) and for the women that figure is $259,732. That is a $275,590 difference in favor of the men’s hockey team.
3. In all my research on coaches, I have NEVER heard of a male coach of any sport being fired because he was paid “too much.” In fact, if you look at salary comparisons of coaches for men’s teams and coaches of women’s teams (some of which are men), the pay gap is staggering, especially when you factor in football coach salaries. (EADA, 2012).
4. There are very few head women’s hockey coaches that are female in the most visible prominent programs, Miller was one of the few left. Based on 2014-15 data for my Women in College Coaching Report Card (being released Feb. 4, 2015) there are very few (n=8) women’s hockey programs in the “Big 7” NCAA-I conferences, and only one of those programs is headed by a woman. Therefore, only 12.5% of premiere women’s hockey programs are coached by women. In my report card, hockey earns an “F” for the percentage of women’s teams coached by women and adds to the trend that the percentage of women head coaches have been in a steady decline (~40%) since the passage of Title IX in 1972 when over 90% of female athletes were coached by women.
It is well documented in my own research, and of my colleagues, that women coaches face a number of barriers and double standards that preclude women from entering the coaching profession, impede career advancement, and lead to women burning out and quitting the profession. The firing of Miller and the reasons given are a game changer and new “barrier” for women coaches.
It communicates to women that even if you do your job well, win, coach with integrity, are beloved by your players, well respected by your peers, turn out Champions and Olympians, are paid well for your expertise, make a long term commitment to the community, institution, and program, that you can be fired under the guise of “financial reasons” while your male colleague with less success and a greater salary, remains.
If this issue concerns you, become involved in the Alliance of Women Coaches.
note: I amended this post 5pm 12/17/14 to reflect an inaccuracy that I wrote in an earlier version of this post. Miller’s contract is not being renewed and she will continue coaching through the 2014-15 season. What I wrote earlier made it seem that she was terminated immediately. I will say however on a related note, that being notified of a non-renewal in the middle of the season is not a common approach.
note 2: The best posts I’ve read on this topic are by colleagues Pat Griffin, College Athletics’ War on Women Coaches, where she summarizes some recent discrimination lawsuits filed on behalf of women in athletics. Kris Newhall’s post on the Title IX blog is also very good, What should we take from Miller’s firing?
This summer an NBA team was in the news… for hiring a woman to the coaching staff.
During the first week of August 2014, the San Antonio Spurs made history when they hired 16-year WNBA San Antonio Stars veteran Becky Hammon as a full-time assistant coach for the 2014-15 season.
While there are women coaches of men, the Hammon hire matters for a number of reasons:
1.The percent of women coaches at every level of competition has declined since the passage of Title IX in 1972…despite a record number of female sport participants. Based on the data, 20% of all college athletes–male and female–are coached by women and 43.4% of females have a woman head coach. If women are not seen in a position of power or a certain career, it is less likely other females will view that job as a viable and realistic career pathway. Seeing Hammon on the Spurs sideline matters because it communicates that women can (and do!) coach men at the highest level. It communicates a career possibility, and a lucrative one at that.
2. The best team in the NBA, the 2014 Champions San Antonio Spurs and the best coach in the NBA, 2014 NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich, hired a woman coach. What winners do in the most visible and popular sports matters, because winning is valued in sport culture and society. Winners get to communicate what is valued, important and relevant. Popovich’s confidence in Hammon will help quell the gurgle of naysayers who believe women can’t coach men or help “mold boys into successful men” (as was stated by a current male head college coach in a Slate.com piece). If you believe this statement, then by the same logic, men should not coach females because they have no place in molding girls into women. Therefore, all athletes should be coached by the same sex. Obviously this is false logic as we know many male coaches help their female athletes grow and develop personally and athletically, and women coaches provide the same guidance, mentoring and coaching for males. Women can coach males at any level, but are rarely given the opportunity to do so.
Scholars argue the lack of opportunity for women to coach males at the highest level is about preserving and maintaining power. If women are given the opportunity to coach men in pro sports or D-I high-profile college mens’ teams, and succeed, who benefits and who doesn’t? If women are denied the opportunity to coach males–who benefits and who doesn’t? If women are revealed as competent coaches in a domain historically and currently dominated by males–coaching males, and recently coaching all athletes–then the existing order of power may shift, and this makes some men who benefit from that power and privilege uneasy. All athletes can benefit from a gender-balanced and diverse work force–meaning they are coached by both men and women.
3. Hammon was hired because she is qualified and competent. It wasn’t a publicity stunt. Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich stated in a release that Hammon will be an asset to his championship team. Competence matters and Popovich believes that Hammon’s knowledge and experience as a long-time veteran player and Spurs insider, will provide value to him, the coaching staff and the players. In her NBA press conference Hammon claimed she was hired because of her background, personal skills, capabilities and basketball IQ. She owned her competence.
Kudos to Becky Hammon, a coaching pioneer, as her presence at the highest level of a major men’s sport will hopefully start a national dialogue about why women coaches matter.
Related to the issue of women coaches of male athletes…
In July 2014 Doc Rivers, head coach of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers, asked Natalie Nakase to be an assistant coach for the team’s short summer league and announced she will return as the Clipper’s assistant video coordinator, a position she held last season. Nakase made her debut coaching males when she became the first female head coach in Japanese men’s professional basketball. Nakase’s goal is to be a head coach in the NBA.
In the MLB, Kim Ng is motivated, competent, experienced and poised to become a general manager. She is currently working with Joe Torre again in the MLB executive offices as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations.
In professional men’s tennis, early in the summer of 2014 Amelie Mauresmo (2-time Grand Slam women’s tennis champion) was signed by ATP Top 10 player Andy Murray, which is in the works to become a long term arrangement.
There are other women like Hammon, Nakase, Ng and Mauresmo who want to and are competent to coach men and I hope 2014 will be the start of a trend…that competent and eager women will be considered, given a real opportunity, and hired for coaching positions, regardless of the sex of the athlete or level of competition.
To learn more about the Alliance of Women Coaches, a group dedicated to growing the number of women in the coaching profession click here.
I recently had the opportunity to work in collaboration with espnW to develop discussion guides for the Emmy-nominated Nine for IX film series.
The Nine for IX Knowledge Center is a free resource available to institutions, organizations, administrators, professors, coaches, and students who want to lead thoughtful and engaging discussions around key themes in the films. The Knowledge Center provides discussion guides for each film, film posters, and a sign-up form to receive the Nine for IX DVD set, all free of charge. The Knowledge Center is a tool that goes beyond the entertainment value of the films and leverages the rich educational content of the embedded lessons and messages within the films.
The discussion guides generate thought-provoking discussion topics around key themes and issues present in the films such as gender equality, intersectionality, identity politics, sport and politics, social class, racism, and sexism, along with issues related to sport psychology, sports media coverage, sports marketing, and sports as a vehicle for developing role models. Each unique guide contains Key Concepts, Discussion Questions, Additional Readings and Additional Activities.
I wrote a specific guide for coaches for The 99ers, a film about the 1999 Women’s World Cup Championship team, that coaches can use as a team building activity and to discuss what it takes to develop performance excellence and a positive team culture.
To access the free materials, including obtaining a free DVD box set of the Nine for IX film series, discussion guides, and posters visit the espnW Nine for IX Knowledge Center.