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.
I recently sat down the WCCO TV’s David McCoy to discuss the Women in College Coaching Report Card, false narratives about women coaches, and why women coaches matter. View our discussion here. View my 5 part blog series on false narratives here.
This marks the fourth blog in the Changing the Narrative about Women Sport Coaches series. Brief review: In Part I and II of this series I laid out how women coaches are framed shapes the discussion, and the numerous “blame the women” narratives that exist. In Part III the “Women don’t apply”narrative was addressed. In this blog I will provide a counter to another common narrative: “Women aren’t as interested in coaching as men.”
Similar to the “women don’t apply” narrative, when fewer women (compared to men) apply for an open position, the fewer number of women provides proof that women aren’t as, or are less, interested in coaching than men. Here is another way to look at this narrative.
As has been proven with sport participation, interest is driven by opportunity. When girls and women were provided opportunity to play sports after the passage of Title IX in 1972, they played. Before Title IX, one could have argued that females weren’t interested in sport because they didn’t play as much as boys. Females were interested and once given opportunity, we now we have record numbers of girls and women playing sports at all levels. Applied to women in sport coaching, currently women are impeded from and denied opportunity to coach compared to their male colleagues. Less than half of college female athletes (~40%) and very few males (~2-3%) are coached by women…that means that only 23% of all head college coaches are women (see data here). Men have a dual career pathway (more opportunity) to coach both males and females, while women do not. Women have less opportunity to coach. This is true at every level of sport. Less opportunity = less interest.
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
It is simply not possible that as women participate in record numbers in sport, have passion for their sport, and become more experienced and more knowledgeable, that women simultaneously become less interested in coaching.
Most coaches (male or female) don’t get a job by randomly applying. Coaches get recruited, tapped or encouraged to apply (i.e., they are ON the short list) by someone in their network, then he/she applies. If one isn’t encouraged to apply, then why would one waste his/her time applying AND run the risk of damaging relationships at the current workplace by signalling they are looking for a job elsewhere? In short, not applying does not mean not interested. Not applying has more to do with being tapped for the short list and one’s informal and formal networks which I outline in Part III of this series.
Really big picture: What do you mean by “interested?” Who gets to define “interest in” coaching? What criteria are being used to define “interest?”
In Part I and II of this series, Changing the Narrative for Women Sport Coaches, I laid out how women coaches are framed shapes the discussion, and the numerous “blame the women” narratives that exist. In this blog I will tackle one particular narrative, provide counter narratives and suggest strategies for change.
BLAME THE WOMAN NARRATIVE: Women don’t apply.
I hear from coaching directors and athletic directors (ADs) they want to hire women, but women just don’t apply. For example, if a head coach job is open an AD might get 45 male and three female applicants. The lack of women applicants provides proof that women don’t apply [subtext: Women CHOOSE not to apply].
Let me provide a few counter narratives and perspectives.
In the example above three women did apply, so it isn’t they “don’t” apply, they don’t apply in the same numbers as men.
In Part I, I outlined that choices of individuals are made within a system. The fact women “choose” not to apply is due to numerous factors and interpersonal, organizational and societal barriers their male counterparts do not encounter.
Often when a head coaching position is posted, the AD already has a short list of candidates. Women know this, and if they aren’t on the “short list” why take the time and effort to apply. What this speaks to is this: informal and formal networks of the AD matters.When an AD wants to hire someone he (and in some cases she, but we know a majority ADs and coaching directors are men) turns to his networks. Most people’s networks are other people like them (i.e., other men, people they worked with in the past, classmates from undergraduate or graduate programs, people in the same position and industry. This is often called the ‘Old Boy’s Club’). Who is hired is often a reflection of the formal and informal network of the person doing the hiring. Staying within one’s network reproduces gendered discrimination (whether intentional or not). If you’d like to read a great article about gendered networks of NCAA ADs and SWAs click here.
Women coaches exist in a system where they lack the network, status, resources, information, and access needed to seek, occupy and maintain leadership positions. Another way to put it, women coaches aren’t in the Old Boy’s Club and when a job opens, it is often too late for them to get in the game.
So what is the solution?
Change must occur at ALL LEVELS but it starts with the AD because that person has the most power in the system!
Strategies for the AD to consider:
Believe that qualified women exist and do want to coach. Go out and actively seek, find, encourage, invite, ASK and ACTIVELY recruit women to apply. Build relationships with a diverse pool of candidates in advance so your short list is diversified. Recruiting women coaches, just like coaches recruit athletes to their teams, is about building a trusting relationship. You must work to convince women why your institution is a good fit for them (and their family if that applies) and why you want them.
Contact the Alliance of Women Coaches and sport coaching organizations and ask for qualified candidates who are looking to make a move. Call colleagues who have made a similar hire recently and get their short list.
Diversify your network.
Ask yourself: Why aren’t women applying to your institution? Is your department a place where women want to work? Do they see others like them? Do they see evidence that women coaches matter? Will they feel valued and supported in your department?
Challenge your common sense beliefs and the way you frame and think about the lack of women coaches in the applicant pool. Try to see it from the perspective of the female applicant and potential female applicants.
Resist the temptation to blame women for not applying and instead reflect on how to encourage more women to apply, and make the workplace a supportive and inclusive place.
The under representation of women coaches within the institution of sport has been framed in many ways–from a historic decline since the passage of Title IX, to scarcity, to the more current narrative of stagnation.
OK if you are new to this topic, let me give you the data to get you up to speed. In 1972 prior to the passing of Title IX, 90% of girls and women were coached by women–today that number is only ~40%, a number that has been stagnant for the last decade (see graph below).
If you are asking why this matters or women coaches matter, please watch this video [forward to 22:00-25:00mn in].
Women coaches exist within an occupational landscape and sport system that is dominated by men at every level, in every position, and in nearly in every sport and institution (see here if you need the data!).
Within this system, many women coaches do not feel supported, valued, or connected to the athletics administration in ways that help them be successful. Ironically, women are often blamed for the lack of, or stagnation, of women coaches. By blaming women (the people in the system with the least power) the systemic changes that need to occur to create change and unstick the stagnation fail to happen. “Women just don’t apply” is an oft heard narrative, which places blame on women. Instead of figuring out why women don’t apply or spending time and energy to actively recruit women into the candidate pool, the buck stops at the individual level–the woman or women who CHOOSE not to apply. The End.
A lack of women applicants then provides proof that women aren’t interested in coaching, and the decision maker doing the hiring is off the hook and the system in which women make choices remains unchallenged. Choices are not made in a vacuum.Choices are influenced by the people, communities, networks, family, organizational culture, and socio-cultural factors around the individual [if you want the data pertaining to the numerous barriers women coaches face in the system, see Women in Sports Coaching, watch this video, or read these blogs].
How the issue of women coaches is framed matters! Narratives matter!
Framing is how something, someone or a group of people are presented to the audience which influences the choices people make about how to process that information. Frames are powerful communication schemas (i.e., narratives) in which meaning assigned to an individual, in this case women coaches, is constructed. Framing is the selection, omission, and organization of the issue by individuals (i.e., the media, ADs) to explain the phenomena. Often dominant frames, whether true or not or whether based on empirical data or not, get taken up as “the truth” and uncritically accepted, like the example above that “women just aren’t interested in coaching.”
Leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8, 2018 I am going to be writing a series blogs to help shift the narratives around women sport coaches that might help us unstick stagnation.
To celebrate National Girls & Women in Sport Day, the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport (where I am the co-director) released its annual Women in College Coaching Report Card. Produced in collaboration with the Alliance of Women Coaches, the report documents the percentage of women in head coaching positions at institutions in seven select NCAA Division-I conferences (AAC, ACC, Big East, B1G Ten, Big 12, PAC-12, SEC) for 2017-18.
The percentage of women head coaches of women’s teams went up for the 5th year in a row and is now at 41.5% (the bad news is that number is stagnant!, works remains to be done!)
In 60% of vacant head coach positions, a male was hired
Cincinnati and University of Central Florida were the only institutions to be awarded an A grade.
Nine institutions earned F grades
None of the select 7 NCAA D-I conferences received above a C grade
NCAA D-III institutions have the highest percentage of women head coaches at 45.7%
To read the full report, download the infographic, discover how the report is making a difference, learn about interesting trends (including insight into which of the 86 select “big time” NCAA Division-I institutions, sports and conferences receive passing and failing grades, and see our NCAA D-III and D-II Report Cards visit : http://www.TuckerCenter.org
I visited Marti Erickson on MomEnoughto do a second podcast on sport parents where we discussed youth sports, questioned many assumptions, called out unhelpful parental behavior and challenged parents to step up and use proven approaches to help children reap optimal benefits of organized sports. Listen to the podcast here.
Did you recognize any of your own parenting behaviors in what parents should not do? What were the most important things parents should do?
My first podcast “Being a Good Sport Parent: Practical Guidance on Bringing Out the Best in Your Young Athlete” with MomEnough ishere.
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 possiblethat 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?
I am a long time advocate of late specialization-early diversification in youth sport, and this research report by the American Academy of Pediatrics“Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes”in the September 2016 issue of Pediatrics hits the mark and provides concrete evidence that early specialization in NOT the optimal pathway to either elite performance or health and well being.
The AAP report along with the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, I “hope” will begin to shift the discussion and beliefs about youth sport participation and structure 180 degrees away from winning/performance to fun and enjoyment and development. In January 2015, the Aspen Institute released “Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game,” a 48-page report that offers a new model for youth sports in America, with eight strategies for the eight sectors that touch the lives of children.
The cultural shift has to start with sport parent and coach education.