Women Leaders in Sport: Where's the Gender Equity?

By Massengale, Dana; Lough, Nancy | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Women Leaders in Sport: Where's the Gender Equity?


Massengale, Dana, Lough, Nancy, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


The increasing sport participation among girls and women has been well documented. According to the National Federation of State High School Association's (NFHS) Athletic Participation Survey, girls' participation in high school sports increased over 600 percent, from 294,015 to 2,083,040, between academic years 1970-71 and 1977-78 (Gillis, 2007). Every consecutive year since, the growth has continued. In 2008, the NFHS reported that girls' participation for the 2007-08 school year set an all-time high of 3,057,266 (Gillis).This increase demonstrates a significant trend. Yet, the sport participation growth evident among girls has not generated a commensurate upsurge in women serving as sport leaders in interscholastic athletics. While the under-representation of women leaders has been noted in intercollegiate athletics, little attention has been paid at the interscholastic level. Our purpose in this viewpoint is to promote strategies that can be used to improve the representation of women sport leaders.

Current Status of Women Sport Leaders

Data regarding the gender of sport participants is readily available, yet there is a shortage of information concerning the number of women in interscholastic athletic leadership positions. Pedersen and Whisenant (2005) found that no state or national governmental agency collects or stores demo-graphic data regarding administrators of interscholastic athletics. Moreover, both state coaching and athletic directors' associations guarded the limited demographic data that did exist. Without accurate numbers, acknowledgment of the problem has been lacking.

Admittedly, Title IX does not require gender equity among administrators. The one leadership aspect included in the law is equivalent quality and number of coaches. This aspect has not been interpreted to mean that women should be hired exclusively, or even preferably, as coaches of girls' athletic teams. In fact, the data most often cited suggests there is an under-representation of women coaching interscholastic teams, and a limited number of women athletic directors in high schools. In 2003, Whisenant reported gender representation employment data provided by 22 of the 50 state high school associations. Of the 7,041 coaches reported, only 899, or 13 percent, were female. Pedersen and Whisenant (2005) studied athletic directors from 423 high schools in two states. The results of the study confirmed that the governance of interscholastic athletics was dominated by men. Males held 90 percent of the athletic director positions. In a 2008 study little improvement was shown. Men held 85 percent of leadership positions, while women accounted for 15 percent (Whisenant, 2008).

To remedy the lack of information, legislation has been introduced that would extend to K-12 institutions the requirements that the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act places on intercollegiate athletics. The High School Accountability Act was introduced to Congress in 2007 and remains active in the House Committee on Education and Labor. The intention behind the legislation is to require high schools to collect and make available gender equity data. Such efforts would shed light on the current situation in interscholastic sport, by providing an accurate account of the gender representation of athletes, coaches, and administrators. However, altering the culture that advances male sport leaders while limiting females requires an understanding of the challenges that women face when pursuing sport leadership.

Barriers or Discrimination?

Research has focused extensively on the barriers that women face in attaining leadership positions. Perceptions of sport as a male domain perpetuate the ongoing discrimination. With men holding dominant roles in sport, girls often do not view athletics as a viable career path and boys do not perceive that women belong as athletic leaders (Whisenant, Miller, & Peterson, 2005). Even with the passage of Title IX in 1972 and the subsequent increases in women's sport participation, there remains a strong presence of hegemonic masculinity in athletics (Fink, 2008; Schell & Rodriguez, 2000; Whisenant, Pedersen, & Obenour, 2002). …

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