A couple years ago I did a podcast for John O’Sullivan of Changing the Game Project about youth sport, sport parent behavior research, and how to help parents be better on the sidelines. Take a listen!
5:00 When she became interested in issues for Women in Sport Leadership?
8:00 Why is there a decline in women in sport leadership?
15:00 What would it take to get more women coaching sports?
21:00 Why does Nicole think kids are quitting sport?
28:00 Nicole explains “background anger” and how it affects children
35:00 What is Kid Speak?
48:00 Winning and Character Development are not mutually exclusive
While girls and women participation in sports since Title IX has exploded, only about 40% of them are coached by women. The film explores supporting research, dispels false narratives, celebrates female coaching pioneers at all levels of competition and highlights stories of success and hardship. Their stories are the universal stories of women coaches who fight many battles to pursue their passion to coach. Produced in collaboration between Twin Cities Public Television and the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport.
Share it widely to your networks and help be a part of changing the culture of sport for women coaches, where they feel safe, valued and supported.
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 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 datato 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.
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.