Gender Equity …. What does it mean in the age of Leadership in the age of Transparency & Transformation in Sport & Society?

Graziella Thake B.Psych M.Psych CEO International Speaker Global leadership consultant 

Equity Vs Equality In Sport pathways for both athletes and leadership globally 

Is Sport the last gender frontier?…..or a pathway for change to build an economy of equity pathways ..

This article is a premise for a discussion about equity pathways for all and gender as just one lens. I hope you enjoy it !

In recent years, there has been a significant shift from advocating for ‘gender equity in sport’ towards using ‘sport for gender equity and personal development’. Women and girls’ health and wellbeing has become the focus of sport participation and so too has the focus on gender equity in positions of leadership. A large amount of research into the extent to which sport and physical activity has a positive confidence point and has shown that involvement in regular physical activity enhances physical and mental health and well-being. The growth of the women’s game has given rise to the question of representation of women in leadership within sport and indeed within society.

As the boundaries between businesses and the sports sector combine, as we begin to kick start events that will bring economic flow, a consensus seems to be emerging that we are all responsible for our world and must work together to make it better. We may even find ourselves wondering how we could ever have thought otherwise. So now as we gaze at the present stats we may ask the question: is equity an illusion, or have we made progress? There are so many pathways to leadership that hit frustrating ceilings not just gender. However, if we use the gender lens we see only 3% of sports leaders are women?

The leading question is why? What could we recognise, to adapt, adopt or change to magnify a change in this statistic. When we consider that most grassroots sport administration is largely supported by volunteers who are also predominantly females, why then don’t we see these administrators go on to lead in sport? 

Building a lens that examines not just administration at the grassroots level but also how pathways for female athletes could grow roles within sport as they now transition, may possibly help us build an adaptable lens to answer our why and our how? Inclusion begs a new lens and sport for women has moved away in 2020 from just the pursuit of health to the pursuit of excellence. It’s broadly acknowledged that sport is also a society builder and inclusion is a larger topic, or is it? 

It is important to note to change an outcome for anything in our history as a human race we need to adapt the lens so we don’t see a difference and we experience only inclusion . Among graduates of elite MBA programs around the world, women continue to lag men at every single career stage, right from their first professional job. On average women earned $4,600 less as a starting salary which was compounded over time. Men reported higher career satisfaction than women, more opportunity to be educated and advance. So how do we change what we see so we can in turn change the outcome?

If we move to be more expressly inclusive we need to consider socio-cultural influences as they also play a role for some females who enter the athlete world and have commonly experienced ostracism from family, friends, or even within sport itself, taking on both verbal, and physical abuse. Professional athletes are celebrated and idolised as gladiators of the modern world. These modern day warriors are faced with unique challenges that have the potential to impact their psychological wellbeing. Four unique challenges are identified as (but are not limited to): i) globalisation, integration and immigration to pursue athletic opportunity; ii) professionalisation of sport and increasing numbers of athlete stakeholders; pushing the presence of women forward: iii) cultural norms relating to what is acceptable and how we see leadership and authority expressed via length of experience or how we see gender and authority as something that still is part of our sociological make up; iv) conflicts in athletic performance abroad also comes with the additional challenge of managing the expectations of multiple stakeholders on gender expression. Another thought is perhaps gender is a lens to not only build equity pathways for women but also equity for all, race, creed, age.

In the search for equity as “a lived experience“ we are really searching for an absence of judgment according to a lens that may be outdated but also in a time that is migrating to allow inclusion and change. There is a need to recognise sport as an educator and also sport education in its broader context of grassroots and intercultural difference. We may possibly have gotten ourselves tied up in metric knots and lacked the simple lens of sport for enjoyment and inclusion. So perhaps if we examine how we approach sport as part of gender inclusion and encourage pathways that are open and accessible for all to experience “the norm”, then the leadership question might become a leadership conversation. The very healthy aspects of sport may need consideration and broadening where we consider mental attitude, health and the language of emotion, motivation and meaning. We may then be asking for less judgement, more open transparency and acceptance as “a new lens.” What we’ve got now is a model of humans performing in the name of measurability. Now is the time when we need to learn how we begin with inclusion and serve equity as the lens that doesn’t keep requiring “definition” rather one that ‘just is and this is how we do it here’, without dropping striving for excellence. We might just start to “live inclusion” rather than strive for it as we could bend everyone out of shape.

The discussion may consist more of questions but we hope it may have a step of outcomes that we could take on and follow as we steer a road to simplifying inclusion and equity as ‘this is just how it is’ by examining models of inclusion that are already happening and working. 

I hope you will enjoy the discussion and click to listen to the panel above “Is sport the last gender frontier?” designed to be provocative, exploring ideas, examples and to provide a pathway of possible steps and stages to adapt a new lens with guiding questions and practices from some great minds.

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