Recruiting Retention and Advancement of Women in Athletics

Women’s Sports Foundation

This is a very different time with a very different feeling. There is a tension between men and women in the workplace that has never existed before. There is, according to Susan Faludi in her book, a “backlash” against the invasion of women into the workplace and women who seek equal rights and privileges (Faludi, 1991). At the start of the 1980’s, it was the first time white men became less than 50% of the workforce. It was the first time that no new manufacturing jobs were created. It was the first time that more women than men enrolled in college. It was the first time that more than 50% of all women worked and more than 50% of all married women worked. And it was the first time that more women with children than without children worked (Faludi, 1991). Faludi maintains that the coming dominance of women in the workplace strikes at the heart of male masculinity — which is not leadership, physical strength, or decision-making power — but a male definition of “good provider for his family (Faludi, 1991).”

If this backlash and tension is found in the workplace, it is doubly intense in the previously all male world of sport. Women have at least broken the sacred participation barrier in sport. Unfortunately, the women who led the fight for equal opportunity and those who should have rightfully followed them into jobs in coaching and athletics administration have instead felt the backlash. It is a very difficult time but one which we must try to step back and understand…and one which we must do something about.
All of us here are concerned with the declining number of women in the professions of coaching and athletics administration. At the college level, women coaches comprise less then 25% of the coaching population serving men’s and women’s sports (Acosta and Carpenter, 1990). At the high school level, the numbers are not that much better. The coaching of men’s sports is a virtually all-male club and the coaching of women’s sports is currently dominated by men with no signs of abatement in that trend. The situation is no better in athletics administration where less than 16% of women’s programs are led by women athletics administrators — down from 90% in the early ’70s (Uhlir, 1987)

Tackling the problem of attracting more women to our profession, educating them to be competent coaches and administrators and keeping them in the business is the subject of my remarks.

Lest you all suspect that I will begin with the charge of sex discrimination as the primary causative factor behind these too few numbers of women coaches and administrators, you will be disappointed. Take heart, it will come later. But first, an historical perspective is in order. If we step back and look at the last 25 years, we must be impressed with the number of career opportunities which have opened up for women. Prior to Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act, women only had two choices for careers beyond the role of wife and mother: being a teacher or becoming a nurse. Those two professions attracted our strongest and brightest women. Nursing and education were two of our finest professions and at the basic service delivery end, were dominated by women. And people got outstanding service for very little money because historically, women’s work has been devalued and salaries for nurses and teachers were consistently bottom rung.

Our women coaches were doubly special. As a rule, they were paid absolutely zero dollars for their efforts as junior high, high school and college coaches — jobs they were privileged to do on top of full-time teaching loads. Yet, they approached their involvement in sport with a love, enthusiasm and positive attitude that often is found in its purest form among volunteers. For many of us who had the privilege of playing under these people, we may have suffered through their lack of technical expertise but we benefited from the opportunity to play and learned the joy of playing sports from these people who coached simply because they loved sport. I suspect that many of those experiences playing for volunteer physical education teacher coaches played a big role in the decisions of many women of my generation to pursue the teaching or coaching professions.

Then came Title IX, which opened the door of sport opportunity to women and, even more important, destroyed the admissions and educational access barriers which stopped women from becoming doctors, lawyers and corporate chiefs. And women took advantage of these opportunities. If people weren’t going to demonstrate appreciation of a job well done through good jobs, decent salaries and a rewarding work environment — then women were going to play the game of materialism — and play it well. The crisis in our public schools and the health care industry today is no accident. We created it by underpaying a huge and talented workforce of women. We didn’t treat our women nurses and teachers well, so many young women rejected these professions. Now we are paying for it. Likewise, the athletics establishment gave women who chose coaching as a profession a hard time in employment, promotion and salaries and, for the first time, women had an alternative. They could leave.

It is against this significant cultural and historical backdrop that we must begin our understanding of why women are not in the professions of coaching and athletics administration in the numbers we would like to see. Simply choosing other professions does not explain it all.

Let’s talk about gender discrimination — because it is a significant part of the picture. You would think that the Civil Rights Act of the mid-sixties, Title IX, equal opportunity laws and the civil rights and women’s movement would have done a lot to eradicate the stains of gender and race discrimination. It has not.

Laws cannot prevent unethical behavior. Laws cannot remove sex discrimination from our society. All laws can do is to attempt to define the letter and spirit of ethical conduct. There is almost always a way to find a way around the letter of the law. Over the past 20 years, it appears that anti-discrimination laws have driven discriminatory treatment, policies and practices underground as opposed to eliminating such conduct. Title IX wrote new rules for the game but the players have learned new ways to break these rules and not get caught.

Gender discrimination in athletics during the 1960’s and 1970’s was easy to see, label, and describe. Men’s and women’s athletics departments were separate entities. It was not difficult to label inequities in benefits and treatment when the women’s athletics budget read $70,000 on one spreadsheet and the men’s athletics budget of $4 million was contained on another spreadsheet. Salary inequities were similarly easy to label when women’s sports coaches were volunteer coaches teaching full-time and getting nothing for their coaching duties and men’s coaches were paid paid $50,000 as full-time coaches with no teaching responsibilities.

Today, employment practices and discriminatory treatment have become more artful, more deceiving, more difficult to uncover and combat. It is essential that we who care about opportunities for women in the coaching profession understand these subtle forms of discrimination which are at work against us.

Submergence of Women in Athletics

First, there has been a gradual extinction of advocates of women in sport. There were more advocates of gender equity within athletics in the 1960’s and early 1970s. Women held 90% of the coaching and athletic director positions in women’s sports (Uhlir, 1987). Because there was little money supporting women’s athletics programs, they often served in those capacities as volunteers or received minimal compensation via a small reduction in teaching load. Today, women coaches and administrators are an endangered species. When Title IX mandated that more money be spent on women’s programs, paid coaching and administrative positions in women’s sports became lucrative and attractive to men. Where once, 90% of all coaches of women’s college teams were women, that figure today is 47% (Acosta and Carpenter, 1990).

In the name of Title IX compliance and financial savings, most of the collegiate men’s and women’s athletics programs in the country were merged under single administrative structures with the director of the men’s program taking the top administrative position. Women administrators lost decision-making power, control of the employee acquisition and retention process and responsibility for the development of women’s programs.

The women who were once able to promote the development of women’s athletics programs and uncover and publicly expose program inequities have either disappeared or are now working under male athletics directors. Many of these coaches, women assistant and associate directors are fearful of being fired if they play the role of a whistle-blower or push too hard for more resources to be devoted to the development of women’s athletics.

The Subtleties of Employment Discrimination

There are those who would maintain that women are simply not applying for coaching and administrative positions. A close look at NCAA Division I women’s programs not affiliated with men’s programs and governed by women athletic directors or those programs having organizational structures where there was equal authority of men’s and women’s athletics directors reveals a very different picture. Sanders (1985) reported that among 14 of 17 such institutions responding (82.3%), only 29 of 102 (28.43 %) head coaching positions of women’s teams were occupied by males–almost half the national average.

A closer look at the problem reveals employment discrimination in its most subtle form. When searching for coaches of women’s teams, the athletic director may only look at formal written applications and make a “”paper hire.”” When looking for coaches of men’s teams, the athletic director will spend days on the telephone hunting for the best candidates and hire good coaches away from other programs whether or not they apply for the position. At the high school level especially, when going out to hire the coach of the men’s team, the sky is the limit in terms of salary — administrators are willing to pay marketplace value and there are no restrictions regarding the teaching field of the coach. When coaches of women’s teams are hired, salaries offered are too low to play in the competitive marketplace, priority is given to second teaching field credentials and ability to coach is often a second consideration.

We cannot underestimate the impact of not “”hiring women away”” from their current positions. Progress in breaking gender discrimination barriers (or race discrimination for that matter) occurs one person at a time. When an organization hires a woman and has a successful experience with that employee, it is more likely to hire a woman again. If women aren’t moving within the marketplace, even laterally, employment possibilities soon stagnate. There is no progress and major initiatives become necessary to fix the problem.

Women coaches and administrators also confront a very common and incidious underground campaign which stems from the lesbian or unfeminine stereotype applied to women who engage in sport or wish to gain access to previously all-male professions (construction, police, military, etc.). It is not unusual, when an athletic director is checking on the credentials or references of female coaching candidates, to hear concerns that the applicant may have homosexual inclinations or references to her physical attractiveness as being more masculine than feminine. Homophobia is an equal opportunity employment issue that is a lot like communism. It is talked about behind the backs of applicants and almost impossible to combat. Likewise, descriptions of a candidate as a “feminist” are often used to imply that person is a “troublemaker”.

People laugh nervously when I say, not altogether tongue in cheek, that the best employment position to be is to be divorced with no children. Otherwise, if you are single, you are a homosexual; if you are married or single and have children, you don’t have the time to make your work the #1 priority. Ah, but if you are divorced — obviously you will be willing to work because there is no man to take care of you and you finally have to support yourself! Exaggeration — maybe — deepseated stereotypical feelings — more likely.

And in many cases, we must recognize that this discriminatory treatment is not intentional. It happens because we are not educated in the importance of ethnic and cultural and gender diversity and we simply do the easiest and most comfortable thing — hire people we know and associate with — people who are just like us. It is easy not to be sensitive. It is easy to believe in stereotypes. It is hard for those in the majority to understand how hurtful these stereotypes are to minority groups.

Continued Participation Inequality

There is also continued participation inequality. Women athletes still represent only 25-30% of the athletic population. Since women coaches are non-existent in men’s sports, fewer jobs are available to them. As long as women athletes continue to have fewer participation opportunities, there will be fewer women coaches because men’s sports is still a closed shop open almost exclusively to males.

It is also important for us to realize that few women who are not competent in sport skills believe themselves qualified to coach a sport. All men believe themselves qualified to coach any sport. Women are much more realistic! However, this fact must lead us to an important conclusion. We are fighting a tough battle if we focus our recruiting efforts on female non-sports-participant populations. Also, the less women who have participation opportunities, the smaller the pool of women who will be interested in pursuing a coaching career.

Equality at Budget-Cutting Time

One more aside to the impact of fewer opportunities for participants in women’s sports is the realization that it can get worse. Despite the fact that women are significantly underrepresented as participants, when the economic crunch facing athletics is confronted, it is not atypical for women’s programs to share equally in budget cutbacks despite the disproportional impact of such action. And opportunities for women coaches suffer accordingly.

No Effort to Allow Women’s Sports to Become Major Revenue-Producers

Another factor is that there is little effort to allow women’s sports to become major revenue-producers. All of the extraordinary perquisites — huge salaries, multiyear contracts, extensive media coverage, complimentary cars and country club memberships go to coaches and administrators responsible for revenue-producing sports. If women’s sports aren’t allowed to become revenue producers we will continue to see the current reality of women’s athletics:
— depressed salaries of coaches because revenue production will continue to be used as justification for salary differences
— lack of attention by the media because no one goes to women’s sporting events which are not receiving any promotional effort
— denial of access to major sponsors, contributors and supporters
— power connections that can help remedy discrimination simply by their ability to influence those in control of athletics programs.

Besides the fact that it is economically irresponsible for institutions not to make every effort to insure that all men’s and women’s sports are doing all they can to produce any revenues which can contribute to defraying program expense, lack of effort to make women’s sports revenue-producers is directly related to continued discriminatory treatment. Undervaluing and treating the women’s sports product as inferior has a substantial impact on a person’s decision to pursue the profession of athletic coach or administrator.

The Impact of Discrimination

We cannot underestimate the impact of discrimination gone underground. In many ways, it is much more incidious, much more difficult to combat and remedy. What does it do to those who feel such discrimination? Have we produced a generation of coaches of women’s teams who are angry — and rightfully so — at how difficult it is to pursue their chosen profession. Mind you, I didn’t say “”women coaches who are angry.”” I am saying that we have produced men and women who are angry at salary and employment inequities — simply because they coach women — men and women who are angry at how their players are treated — angry over their players receiving less. What impact does this anger and frustration have on our players? Do we think for one minute that it will encourage our athletes to follow in our footsteps?

What Can Be Done?

I believe we can make significant progress in dealing with this situation. Here are 15 suggestions regarding what should be done:

1. We are also kidding ourselves if we believe that we will one day eliminate discrimination in our society. All we can do is to always directly and immediately confront discriminatory practices. Doing this demands constant vigilance and perseverance. Every effort must be made to educate those overseeing the conduct of athletics programs — members of faculty athletics councils and school boards, college presidents and vice presidents, school district superintendents and principals, club sports leaders and administrators — to the new forms of subtle discrimination which are undermining our ability to create an open, fair and supportive employment and volunteer environment for women in sport related careers.

The easiest way to conduct this educational effort is to make a concerted effort to disseminate articles in journals and newsletters which will make people be more sensitive to these new forms of discrimination. We must throw the data we have out in front of people who have the power to make a difference. Silence permits continued discrimination.

Every coaching association and national sport governing body convention program should have a session on recognizing subtle discrimination and the behaviors and responses which keep women and other minorities out of the coaching profession.

2. We must work against any effort to reduce participation opportunities for women – even in bad economic times. Dropping equal numbers of men’s and women’s sports when women don’t have half the participation opportunities of men is ludicrous. Equality of participation opportunity and treatment of women athletes effects how coaches feel about their profession and how athletes feel about moving into coaching after their participation days are over.

3. Women’s sports need to be developed as revenue-producers. There has been considerable debate as to whether women’s athletics will ever be able to pay for itself. The real point is whether institutions are making every effort to insure that men’s and women’s sports are doing all they can to produce any revenues which can contribute to defraying program expenses and eliminating unnecessary expenses. A strong economic environment for sports programs will contribute to better paid coaches, better treatment of professionals and will increase the attractiveness of the coaching profession to young people.

4. We must gear up to sell coaching as a profession or an important volunteer activity to all of our current athletes — men and women. Here’s one thing each national sport governing body (NGB), coaches association, the USOC or the NCAA, NAIA or NJCAA can do right now — with no debate: produce an attractive “We Want You” brochure which presents male and female role model coaches talking positively about their professional and volunteer activities. We need to plant the seeds of coaching as a career possibility in our female athletes who are already comfortable in their athletic identities.

Along with encouraging our athletes to consider a career in sport is the need to educate our current coaches about how they affect the decisions of their athletes to pursue coaching. I cannot remember, when I was in school, getting the impression that my coaches ever felt overworked, underappreciated, underpaid or angry about their profession. No one ever spoke about these feelings in front of kids. We don’t want to keep our kids from knowing reality, but we certainly have an obligation to an spend equal amount of time on the positive and rewarding side of our business.

Older men and women coaches need to take younger coaches under their wings. We cannot underestimate the importance of mentoring. We can do these things today.

5. We must insist on open and fair employment practices. We must act affirmatively to redistribute coaching opportunities fairly among women and minority groups. We cannot continue to permit athletics to have a closed shop. We must speak out about this issue every time there is a position opening. We must find out who is on the search committee, give them the data and encourage them to act affirmatively. We must all be advocates and watchdogs within the athletics establishment. Laws do not prevent discrimination in employment or participation opportunities. People do. When we recognize unfairness, we must speak up. One voice can produce change — and we cannot think that the voice is going to be someone else’s. We must advocate to our coaches and administrators that this individual responsibility is key to the success of remedying discrimination against women and minorities in our profession.

6. School districts, universities and NGBs must maintain their own data on numbers of coaches, administrators, and governing board members by gender, race, ethnic group and must show comparative salaries and positions. That data must be assembled, published and reviewed each year. These organizational report cards send an important message about the importance of diversity and encourage accountability.

7. Those of you in physical education who are tenured and have the power to speak must help women in the athletics trenches who have no such job security. You must speak out for their sake and for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

8. We must educate administrators who are doing the hiring on the importance of invading the marketplace and how this practice actually increases the pool of qualified candidates over the long term. Organizations with successful women are likely to rehire women once the initial employment barrier is broken. Playing the marketplace increases coaches salaries.

9. All of us need to establish new networks for minority and female recruiting…existing networks are predominantly white male. Never accept the “no women applied” or “no minorities applied” excuse. See what happens when you say “no money is available for a position unless you can find a minority and you can justify this hire under affirmative action.” All of us need to insist on affirmative action.

10. We need to educate ourselves and those working in our organizations on the importance of new employee orientation, support and mentoring in the retention of minority employees — be they women or racial minorities. None of us can underestimate the effect of insecurity and discomfort in the work environment or the importance of understanding defense mechanisms of minority employees. We must recognize these insecurity responses such as “a chip on the shoulder”, a “laissez-faire” attitude, “arrogant”, “pushy”, or the minority employee’s failure to acknowledge lack of understanding work assignments or expectations as situations and responses we have created by not having a culturally diverse workplace which is comfortable for every employee.

Every intern or new woman or minority employee should have an assigned mentor who knows that it is his or her responsibility to educate and help assimilate the new employee into the organization. The head honcho of the organization has to make clear how important this responsibility is. It is too expensive to recruit employees from limited minority pools and then lose them and have to start over again. It’s bad business.

11. Internships are crucial in creating test positions (especially in bad economy). Undergraduate coaching internships will play a vastly more important role given new NCAA limitations on numbers of coaches. Every organization should have at least one if not two or three internship positions designated for women and minorities.

12. We need to impress upon our coaches that what we say and do in front of our current student-athletes influences their decision re: whether to make sport a career.

13. Scholarships in fee-charging junior programs must be a rule rather than the exception. Sport opportunity cannot be available only to kids who can afford it. Minorities are over represented in lower socio-economic groups. Our coaches are going to come from our participant pools. We must be sure those pools have enough women and minorities. Insist that every youth sport program charging fees offer scholarships to lower socio-economic group kids.

14. We need to be advocates for certification of coaches. Certification goes a long way toward preventing employment discrimination because it mandates objective criteria for weighing the basic qualifications of applicants. It is still amazing to me that we are still hearing that women coaches are less qualified and less experienced even in the face of research that shows that just the opposite is the case.

Certification requirements also initially reduce the supply of coaches which increases demand and therefore increases salaries — all of which increase the attractiveness of the coaching profession.

15. We need to stay strong as women leaders and role models. We need to take care of ourselves and our sisters. Networking is power. We must recommend other women for positions. I have never seen a man criticize another man when it comes to whether that man is qualified for a job. Longevity is power. The longer you stay in your position, the more contacts you have and the greater support you develop. Don’t underestimate the power of longevity. Doing good deeds in your community is power. Athletics has traditionally isolated itself from the rest of the University and the community. Get involved in community project and form a power base outside of the University.

Remember that power does not have to be real. The perception of power is as good as having real power. Have lunch and hang around powerful people. Make sure your organizations speak out strongly whenever you cannot.

Speaking out against wrong is power. Silence in the face of wrong is weakness because it allows wrong to rule. It is each individual’s obligation to speak out against wrong. If speaking out against wrong will result in retribution, practice full disclosure of information to the press or to those with the power to right the wrong. Anonyminity is not wrong.

Last but not least, don’t succumb to the myths of what equal access and feminism has done to women. We are not “burning out” or suffering from “man shortage” or the “birth dearth”. Single or married working women with children in daycare don’t create disadvantaged children and working women don’t create broken marriages or broken families. These are dangerous myths promulgated by a predominantly white male establishment of journalists, commentators and so-called researchers. Each of these myths has no basis in fact. Don’t let unsubstantiated words intimidate you from pursuing that which you have every right to pursue.

Acosta, R. V. and Carpenter, L. J. (1990). Women in intercollegiate sport:: A longitudinal study-thirteen year update, 1977-1990. Unpublished manuscript, Brooklyn College.

Faludi, Susan. Backlash: the undeclared war against american women. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1991

Sanders, M. T. (1985). Comparison of various operation procedures in division I women’s athletics. An unpublished manuscript, University of Tennessee.

Uhlir, G. A. (1987). Athletics and the university: The post-woman’s era. Academe, 73,(4), 25-29.