Despite the growth in women’s participation in sport, women face gender inequalities when it comes to securing a graduate-level job in the sport sector. Men dominate positions in senior sport management, in sports media, in the governance of sport, in senior coaching roles, and in applied sport psychology (Whiteside & Hardin, 2012; Roper, 2008). In coaching, as an example, only a third are women (Sports Coach UK, 2012) and fewer still work at a professional level (Norman, 2013). Women who try to shatter the ‘glass ceiling’ by seeking high-profiled employment within sport face a number of barriers (according to research undertaken by Whiteside and Hardin, 2012), including sexual harassment, discrimination, and being pigeonholed into working in areas that are considered more appropriate for women. This under-representation in graduate-level careers in sport is despite moves to improve gender equality by organisations such as Women in Sport, the Women’s Sport Network, Women Ahead, and Sports Coach UK.
Reasons for the low number of sport and exercise graduates working within the industry may include: females being socialised out of sport (Harden & Greer, 2009); women not being able to fit childcare and family responsibilities into a rigid, high-demanding workday that such high-profiled jobs demand; the lower value women place on jobs within sport (Whiteside & Hardin, 2012); women resigning themselves to not being capable of achieving senior jobs; and employers making decisions regarding recruitment on the basis of gender. Whatever the reasons, female graduates may feel a failure, and may blame themselves for lack of success in the graduate labour market, when really social inequality may be to blame, which researchers believe could have damaging consequences for graduates in terms of their self-belief.
The numbers of females studying sport and exercise mirrors the numbers of women in sport-related employment. Many sport and exercise students chose their course out of interest in sport and to study a degree that they enjoy rather than for specific vocational reasons (Minten & Forsyth, 2014). Since females have already lost interest in sport by the age at which they choose their degree, then the number of females choosing to study a sport-related degree at university is likely also to be low. The low numbers of females completing sport-related degrees may also contribute to the inequalities observed in the labour market.
In sport and exercise at Staffordshire University, we wish to promote positive female role models, and encourage networking and a stronger social identity among females who are working and studying in sport and exercise. We, therefore, recently hosted a social evening/networking event on careers and study in sport and exercise for females, where our female graduates and other guest speakers shared their thoughts and experiences regarding the opportunities and barriers that females face for study and employment in sport. They spoke about: what attracted them to studying sport, and into the job they have currently; the job opportunities/barriers for females who wish to study and work in sport and exercise, and they also gave their advice to females who wish to study and work within sport and exercise.
All the speakers opened my eyes to a wide variety of options. They helped me to become more prepared for the barriers and different careers. Very inspiring!
Very good; it gave me a lot of inspiration to work within the sports environment and aim for a high position as a woman
What was noticeable, though, was that the women who presented emphasised the need to work harder in order to be able to be as good as the men, or suggested that they had to act like one of the men in order to get on. In a McKinsey report (Barsh & Yee, 2011), women were found to be promoted based on past accomplishments, whereas men were promoted based on their potential to achieve, suggesting that women have to work harder than men to get the senior jobs.
We recently took a group of our female sport and exercise students to a sport networking event in London. The event was organised by Women in Sport, and delivered by Judy Goldberg from Women Ahead, a social enterprise that supports the development of women in sport and business.
‘The day was thoroughly interesting and exposed me to new experiences. The networking itself really pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but gave me great insight into how to connect and develop my networking skills, which are so important in my chosen field.’
Natalie Sandiford, BSc (Hons) Strength and Conditioning student.
We feel it important for our students to have opportunities to see other women in successful sport-related employment, and to be able to connect and network with confidence; individuals who are well networked tend to receive better pay, are appreciated more, and have a greater chance of career success (Harvey, 2015).
We are currently undertaking research on the opportunities and barriers that females face for study and employment in sport. We are looking for a total of 30 volunteers to take part in focus groups. Volunteers will consist of year 11 students, and current/former sport and exercise students, who are female. If you would like to take part in this study, please contact Natasha Frost on firstname.lastname@example.org or Jacky Forsyth, email@example.com.