This week marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Currently I’m out in Denver for the NCAA Women Coaches Academy (run by the Alliance of Women Coaches) and in the next room is the NCAA/NACWAA Institute for Administrative Advancement where in both rooms the current and future generation of coaches and athletic administrators are being empowered. Seeing this group of women is inspiring and motivates me to continue the work I do to help them in part to succeed and stay in sport careers. Unfortunately they need a lot of support to do so.
As I was getting ready this morning I caught part of the ESPN Outside the Lines piece on “Coaching Conundrum” as to why there is a scarcity of female coaches. The ESPN crew had been out in Atlanta filming at the Alliance of Women Coaches annual Huddle in last May. While the ESPN piece is great for raising awareness about the scarcity of female coaches, it only scratched the surface of this complex question. An espnW piece on “The Glass Wall” is a much more in depth treatment female coaches.
The barriers for female coaches reside at four levels.
1. Individual (perception of lack of competence or confidence, choose not to coach, perception of time commitment to fulfill role)
2. Interpersonal (family & domestic commitments, lack of support from administration, negative recruiting from colleagues)
3. Organizational (lack of opportunity for professional development, lack of family-friendly policies, limited opportunities for advancement, lack of female role models in positions of power)
4. Societal-Cultural. This is the level that rarely gets discussed, is the hardest to change, and has to do with stereotypes of women, gender and leadership. The traits of effective leadership we mostly highly value in US society align with a male/masculine leadership style. If women don’t adopt or conform to this style (firm, authoritarian, assertive, loud, in control, competitive) they are perceived to be incompetent and weak. If they do adopt this style, the are often labeled a bitch because she is not conforming to a stereotypical female leadership style (caring, quiet, nurturing, passive, collaborative). The key here is that the association with gender and leadership is constructed and arbitrary, but has a dramatic effect on the careers of female coaches. If those in positions of power are mostly men (and they are!) and they are not aware of their own uncritical acceptance of leadership beliefs, and largely believe that male coaches are more competent than females…this will result in most likely a male being hired into the position. The result?–The current structure of sport and male power does not get challenged and females remain marginalized and in the minority, and because men continue to dominant the sport landscape and occupy the most important positions, society at large continues to believe that men are inherently more competent to coach.
Effective leadership is not gendered. Being competent, knowledgeable, facilitating optimal performance, treating people with care and respect, being organized, communicating well, are not inherent to males or females.
Female coaches need a voice in the sport landscape that is dominated by men. Be part of the critical mass and join the Alliance of Women Coaches.
Look for a full length article I wrote with a graduate student on this topic coming out in July 2012 in the inaugural issue of Sports Coaching Review titled “Barriers and support for female coaches: An ecological model.”