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Changing the gender imbalance in Australian sports coaching

14 Jul 2017

At the IGW Women and Sport conference held in Helsinki in June 2014 the International Council for Coaching Excellence presented an analysis of the coaches attending the 2012 London Olympics.

The results were startling!

Of the 3,225 accredited coaches at the 2012 London Olympics 89% or 2,867 were male and only 358 or 11% were female. The research also highlighted the gender split of the Australian team managers with 84% of the Australian team managers being male with the remaining 16% of roles being filled by females.

More evidence of imbalance was presented at the 2014 Asia Pacific World Sport and Women Conference in Sydney where research conducted by Women On Boards Australia titled Gender Balance in Global Sport Report was tabled and identified that 84% of seats on the committees responsible for administering the Olympics in their respective countries are held by men.

Now for me this is not a discussion about gender, rather about an opportunity lost. In this time where volunteers are harder and harder to find, how many coaches and for that matter team managers are being lost to sport simply because they are not being given an opportunity?

I strongly believe that the low female numbers in leadership roles in sport isn’t sport being sexist (although I understand others will argue strongly to the contrary). It may once have been that the only role for women was to prepare and serve afternoon tea, but this scenario is hopefully long gone.

For me the issue of imbalance highlights a cultural weakness in Australian sport. In the absence of reason to the contrary, the behaviours of individuals, especially new individuals into a club environment, will default to the existing culture and behaviour exhibited by club members. For generations, generally, this default position is men filling the leadership roles within clubs and sport.

When we posted these statistics on Twitter (@sportsclubinfo 28/10/2014) the conversation was instant but it was also passionate, logical and confronting with a common theme.

How can we change this situation?

If you accept my position that the issue is a cultural behavioural issue then the solution becomes significantly easier to change than if the issue was caused by a person, club or teams belief that there is not a role for women in coaching, leading or managing your sports club.

In our training sessions we work with clubs on how they can change their culture. The most important feature of instigating any change is to ensure there is a real desire to make the cultural change.

This point shouldn’t be skipped, skimmed over or underestimated. There must be a real intention to make the relevant change and if there is a desire then your clubs behaviours must match its intent.

Often we work with clubs who “talk” about wanting a cultural or behavioural change but this may not be reflected in their actions. There is nothing truer than the adage “actions speak louder than words” and generally these clubs are unable to effect actual and sustainable change.

Once it has been established that your club has a real desire for change the next step is to define the outcome or behaviour your club wants. This starts to really open up some challenging discussions. If women are underrepresented at your club then what are your targets and by when?

Should your club introduce a quota system for the number of female coaches or set targets for a point of time in the future? If the key to making a significant change is to define the change we want, then this step, although challenging, is vitally important.

Once your club has defined the change it wants it must document it. Generally this means enshrining the change into club policies and procedures, putting it on the website and making it clear for the world to see.

Not only do committees need to document the change they are seeking but also what the procedure is for dealing with people who resist or undermine the change and any consequences for these actions.

The next step is creating the buy-in or implementing the change.

This does not simply mean having a documented target but actively setting out to facilitate the change.

Take the time to speak to the women in your club about the new opportunities your committee is creating and proactively encourage women to invest the time and effort to develop the skills required to become the best applicant for the role.

Your club needs an advocate for promoting the opportunity for women within your club.

If a club is going to break an existing culture of male dominated leadership and coaching roles then the club must continually be advocating for all people to apply for roles that interest them.

The last step is often seen as the most challenging. Your club must consistently and continually re-enforce the positive behaviour (a skill most clubs are terrible at) and deal with any unsatisfactory or negative behaviour.

When initiating any behavioural change into a club there are likely to be people who don’t want the change or, more accurately like the status quo and don’t see the need to change. These people are the real challenge for the committee and so often we see that the views of the minority hijack the outcomes desired by the majority simply because there were no consequences for the minority’s unsatisfactory behaviour.

Most people don’t like conflict and many actually go out of their way to avoid it but let me be clear, to make cultural and behaviour change takes courage and leadership.

The unsatisfactory behaviour of even one individual must not be allowed to continue or the cultural change you are seeking if likely to fail.

Change requires leadership and leadership requires courage.

Does your club have the courage to change the status quo?

Steven Pallas
Managing Director
Sports Community