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Women's leadership and decision making within sport

Women's leadership and decision making within sport

Publication type



Step Up Equality Project



Tackling the persistent gender inequalities and addressing the under-representation of women among trainers, managers, and decision-makers in sport.


Leadership and decision making are the biggest challenges facing sport in its progress towards gender equality. Many policy documents report gender equality as a value but progress in prac­tice rarely aligns with what is written in text. If we want to achieve gender equality in sport we need the leadership to get there, and we need the governance and decision making processes which will truly support that journey.

In addition, and the specific focus of this handbook, is the fact that leadership is the area of sport where women are particularly underrepresented, if not totally absent. So for example, while there has been progress in terms of women’s equal participation in sport, progress is cer­tainly not matched in terms of leadership and influence in decision making. If we take Germany as one example, according to the German Olympic Sports Confederation, more than 10 million girls and women are members of sports clubs nationally, which corresponds to approximately 40% of the membership base. In competitive sports, 45% of German Olympic athletes are female. However, only 13% of national coaches and 16% of leadership positions in German sports organisations are occupied by women. High level and prestige positions such as mem­bers of presidential boards in particular are dominated by men. Similar and worse patterns are found in many other European countries. In fact, even though these numbers are far from desirable, Germany’s statistics are on the higher end of the equality spectrum.

Women continue to be largely marginalised from the decision making and leadership sphere of sport, including at the grassroots level. Structural barriers through discriminatory norms, val­ues, and institutional practices in how sport is “done” still limit women’s options and opportuni­ties. Cultural practices, attitudes and gender stereotypes provide further challenges. Capacity gaps that result as a legacy of this discrimination and under investment also mean that women are sometimes less likely than men to have the education, networks or resources needed to become effective leaders.

Many individual women have overcome these obstacles and achieved great success in their leadership; coaching Olympic level athletes, leading international sports teams to victory or in their groundbreaking work related to sports policy or journalism. This is often to the benefit of society at large; not only catalysing wider change within their sports and institutions but also providing important role models for others. However, there is a long way to go in terms of wom­en securing equal opportunities to lead and shape the future of European sport. The project from which this handbook results focused on exactly that challenge; discovering the barriers that women most commonly experience and how they can be successfully overcome or ideally, removed completely. This handbook offers a selection of examples of how to do precisely that!

Gender equality is a key focus in sport at many levels across Europe. This is a positive sign yet change continues to be slow, even in those countries considered to be more progressive such as Sweden. Leadership has a crucial role to play in speeding up this process. The cultures created and supported by specific styles of leadership together with the values, norms and bi­ases they can reinforce have a direct and powerful influence on the success of other means of creating change in sport. If we focus our attention on equality in terms of who it is that makes decisions, who steers how sport is “done”, who influences how funds are spent and priorities determined - then we have the opportunity to work on an area that will catalyse change must faster. The 10 best practice case studies presented here were sourced as part of a wider data collection exercise around barriers to women’s leadership. They offer a diverse set of examples of how it is possible to work with leadership and gender equality in sport at the grassroots level within a range of diverse contexts and resource levels. Details of other supporting resources for those wanting to work with women’s leadership in sport are available at the end of the hand­book.



Wednesday, June 3, 2020 - 14:54

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