The Sport Information Resource Centre
The Sport Information Resource Centre

When female athletes decide to make the transition into leadership positions they bring with them numerous skills that have been developed from participating in sport. Many times these include high standards for success, the ability to overcome obstacles, exceptional discipline, and the ability work with and inspire a team – all of which are tremendously valuable for any organization. Even with all this potential, it’s commonly known within the sport community that women are greatly underrepresented in sport leadership roles. Knowing this, how can we help pave the way for aspiring female leaders?

“More than 4 out of 5 executive businesswomen played sports growing up – and the vast majority say lessons learned on the playing field have contributed to their success in business…” – From the Locker Room to the Boardroom: A Survey on Sport in the Lives of Women Business Executives

Taking the First Steps

Addressing and removing barriers – Current evidence-based research on understanding barriers and promoting inclusive leadership is hard to come by but a few factors to consider are:

  • Societal attitudes, belief systems, and cultures all impact the way in which women are defined, developed and supported. These common assumptions continue to have an effect on young aspiring women and have a direct impact on a person’s career.
  • Organizational structures and policies should reflect diverse initiatives and have the support and commitment at the executive level to influence and affect change. Recommended areas to examine include promoting a work/life balance, increased transparency, and measuring and tracking what’s been done to meet the goals an organization has set.

Providing training and mentorship – Mentorship is an extension of leadership and provides a unique opportunity for young women in sport to develop their skills and work towards personal and professional goals. Female leaders are generally different to that of their male counterparts in their approach to leadership, usually involving more collaboration, inclusiveness, and encouragement of others to get involved. Mentorship programs not only allow young people to see these women in action, it partners like-minded people together who face similar challenges and gives them the opportunity to share their career stories and work together towards a common goal.

Embracing diversity – Increasing the number of talented women in senior leadership positions has a number of benefits for sport organizations not least of which it gives them a larger talent pool to draw from. This expanded level of talent encourages innovation, inspires creativity, boosts employee satisfaction and reduces turnover.

Obviously this just touches a few of the many challenges young women face when striving for leadership positions in the sport community. The views on how to create more opportunities for women in sport are wide and varied so we’ve provided some excellent resources if you’re looking for more information on this important topic.

Women on Boards: A Guide to get you Started by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS)

Developing Female Leadership in the Canadian Sport System: Recommendations for High-Level Sport Organizations by the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching Online

Women, Gender Equality and Sport by the Division for the Advancement of Women of the United Nations Secretariat

References from the SIRC Collection:

Brown S, Light R. Women’s sport leadership styles as the result of interaction between feminine and masculine approaches. Asia-Pacific Journal Of Health, Sport & Physical Education. December 2012;3(3):185-198.

Litchfield C. Gender and leadership positions in recreational hockey clubs. Sport In Society. January 2015;18(1):61-79.

Pfister G, Radtke S. Sport, women, and leadership: Results of a project on executives in German sports organizations. European Journal Of Sport Science. July 2009;9(4):229-243.

Ransdell L. Women as Leaders in Kinesiology and Beyond: Smashing Through the Glass Obstacles. Quest (00336297). April 2014;66(2):150-168.

Sartore M, Cunningham G. Explaining the Under-Representation of Women in Leadership Positions of Sport Organizations: A Symbolic Interactionist Perspective. Quest (00336297).