by Elizabeth A. Taylor (Temple University), Jessica L. Siegele (UNC-Pembroke), Allison B. Smith (University of New Mexico), and Robin Hardin (University of Tennessee)
Member institutions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) began sponsoring sports for women in the 1970s soon after the passage of Title IX, and the NCAA then began offering championships for women in the early 1980s. Both of these changes led to the dissolution of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) which was providing governance for women’s collegiate athletics. Women’s athletics were eventually fully integrated into the governance structure of the NCAA which led to increased funding, participation, and scholarship opportunities for women. All positive developments. A negative aspect of women’s athletics coming under the purview of the NCAA though was the reduction in leadership and coaching opportunities for women.
Women hold fewer than 25% of the athletic director positions in the NCAA, and 11% of athletic departments do not have a woman in an administrative position in any capacity. Women also only hold approximately 25% of the head coaching positions in the NCAA. There has been a plethora of research examining career mobility issues for women in sport and in collegiate athletics. Common themes that have emerged from this line inquiry are gender normalcy, homologous reproduction, organizational barriers, lack of mentors, and issues associated with work-life balance.
One place where women have seen more success securing senior level positions is that as conference commissioners. Eleven of the 32 NCAA Division I conference commissioners were women at the time of this study with one women serving as commissioner of two conferences. A much higher percentage than other leadership positions. The purpose of the project was to examine the experiences of women who are NCAA Division I conference commissioners and how they were able to ascend to these positions of leadership using career construction theory (CCT) as a theoretical framework. The study consisted of semi-structured interviews with 8 of the women who held the position at the time of study. Career construction theory was utilized for its ability to examine how and why specific events or experiences as well as education and training influence an individual’s career choices.
Women may experience increased success in leadership positions at conference offices, compared with on-campus athletic departments, due to limited direct interaction with football and donors.
Findings revealed participants constantly negotiate time spent on personal and professional obligations, and relationships created in the workplace turned into organic mentorship relationships. The experiences and challenges of negotiating the space between work and family are not specific to collegiate athletics, but may be more prevalent in an industry with high time demands, a nontraditional work schedule, and pressure to perform at a high level.
Women from the study indicated they engaged in very personal, professional relationships with other female conference commissioners around the country. They would often extend work trips to create opportunities for female-to-female bonding. These types of experiences are common practice for male employees, however, this is one of the first times a population of female employees within the sport industry has described these behaviors and events. Participants felt that there were limited amounts of sexism in the workplace, but all discussed experiencing instances of sexism, indicating a culture of gender normalcy. Many of the participants discussed these experiences while appearing to “laugh them off,” however sexism was still prevalent. These women may have learned the sexism and discrimination is part of the job and to be successful they must learn to accept it.
- Model Good Behavior: Practically speaking, more senior level employees can model better work-life balance to show entry-level employees it is acceptable to take time for family or outside interests. It is important this behavior is modeled otherwise entry-level and newly-hired employees will believe they must be in the office for extended periods of time and weekends in order to be successful.
- Build Strong Networks: Additionally, athletic departments can utilize this information to help women build strong networks within the field of collegiate athletics. Encouraging women to engage networking that is both personal and professional may be beneficial for women in the industry.
- Build Culture Against Sexism: Finally, creating a culture that is not tolerant of sexist behavior is critical to increase the presence of women within the collegiate athletics industry. Although more senior level female employees may “put up” with sexist behavior because they have become accustomed to it that does not mean it is accepted behavior that should be tolerated.
To read the original article from Journal of Sport Management, click here.