Women in sport face invisible barriers. The first barrier that my research informs is that women are less likely than men to feel welcome and fully included in the sporting sector. Despite women in sport being very committed and very passionate about their role and the contribution they are making through a career in sport, women in sport have lower levels of job satisfaction and higher rates of job turnover.
In an environment where the race for top female talent hots up, this is bad news for leaders. Because a lack of women or the ability to attract and retain top female talent will cost the organisation dearly.
4 Questions to Discover Invisible Barriers
For decades, sports organisations and clubs have organised themselves around the values and experiences of men. This obviously means that whilst the environment suits and meets the needs of male participants and employees, it may not be meeting the needs of girls and women. Consider these questions that are based on our research and the lived experience of women (including myself):
- Are the facilities female friendly? Do you have segregated shower cubicles? Do you have sanitary items and bins in toilets? Are there sufficient toilets for the number of women in the organisation? Are there gender-neutral baby change facilities? Is there a clean space (not a toilet) available for breast-feeding?
- What is the proportion of visible female representation for the organisation? On websites, social media pages and newsletters? In visual displays around the workplace? (photographs, multimedia, posters) Are speakers and panelists at events gender balanced? Are there women on the board and executive team?
- How is the organisational housework allocated? How many men are rostered for canteen duty? Who takes the minutes at meetings? Who organises catering, off-site events and gifts?
- Is the workplace equitable and flexible? Are men (and women) offered and encouraged to work flexibly and/or part-time? Are men offered and encouraged to take parental leave? Are men and women paid equally? Has there been an audit of the gender pay gap and HR policies?
You get the picture. Many of the barriers to women advancing in sport are invisible, entrenched yet can be easily eliminated.
Busting the Barriers
There is a lot of talk, but not enough action when it comes to busting the barriers that prevent women from advancing in sport. If you and your organisation are serious about closing the gender gap in your sport, then there are three questions to ask yourself and your teams:
- Do we know the reality and the barriers women face in our organisation?
- Have we asked what the lived experience is for our female employees, athletes, supporters, fans, sponsors and suppliers?
- Have we got a winning strategy when it comes to women?
If the answers to any of those questions are no, then it’s time for you to stop talking and start doing so your female employees, athletes, supporters, fans, sponsors and suppliers feel welcome, are included and belong in your organisation.
There is undeniable evidence that advancing more women in sports leadership is a win/win for sport and women. So now is the time for sports leaders to stop the conversation and start the action.
First action: Listen to this episode of The Advancing Women in Sport podcast to hear more about the invisible barriers that women in sport face.
Advancing women into leadership does not simply involve upskilling women to become effective leaders–after all, what is the point in having highly capable women who, due to cultural and structural barriers, are unable to move up in their careers? At Advancing Women, we believe it is important to build female leadership capability while simultaneously addressing the cultural and structural drivers of gender inequality within an organisation.
Advancing Women fills a gap in the market for customised gender equality action plans that suit the unique needs specific to an organisation. At Advancing Women there is no such thing as one-dimensional and ‘off the shelf’ initiatives; rather we use design thinking practices and a four-phase approach to build a gender action plan tailored to the organisation. This approach is effective, sustainable, and deceptively simple.