Monday, June 06, 2016

New WSF Report Examines Gender Inequality in Coaching

Last week the Women's Sports Foundation issued a new report that examines gender inequality in the coaching profession. The report's authors surveyed over 2500 current and former coaches about their experiences and perceptions of the athletic departments in which they work, and revealed some surprising and some not-so-surprising results.

For example of of a not-so-surprising result, a significant minority of female head coaches (32%) perceive that men's teams other than football receive greater resources than women's teams. While football is certainly included in the Title IX analysis, separating it out for purposes of a survey paints an even more compelling picture of gender inequality. Yet, sadly, a third of female coaches also believed that they would put their jobs at risk if they spoke up about gender inequality.

The report also garnered data about how coaches view the equality in the terms of employment. A majority of coaches (male and female) agreed that it was easier for male coaches to get hired for high-level jobs, be awarded a multi-year contract, and successfully negotiate a raise.  Meanwhile more than 40% of female coaches reported that they had experienced gender discrimination in the workplace and a third perceived that administrators favored male coaches. Notably, the report also included some interesting comments about "reverse discrimination" -- the perception that being male is disadvantageous in the athletic department workplace. In fact, 40% of male coaches, compared to only 12% of female coaches, believed that they had not gotten a coaching job because of their gender. This is an interesting pair of statistics that I think says something about gender and entitlement. Women are unlikely to believe they were ever turned down for a coaching job because of their gender despite constituting only about 20% of college head coaches. One explanation for this is that they are not going after jobs in men's sports because they do not feel entitled to those jobs the way that men feel entitled to the coaching jobs in women's sports.

On the other hand, men have nearly all of the coaching jobs in men's sports and even a majority of the coaching jobs in women's sports, yet a significant percent of them still perceive that gender disadvantaged them in the hiring process. They made comments on the survey like, “I’m a white male and I can’t get the job because they have to hire a female or a minority. This is not right. The best candidate should be hired regardless of race or gender.” And, “I would do much better off professionally if I was a minority, handicapped, homosexual." They argue that "much less qualified" women "with less experience" are being hired instead of them.

Based on comments like these, one imagines the college coaching market flooded with applications from optimistic, overconfident women who are seeking jobs beyond their reach (and then managing to get hired for those jobs, no less.). There are a lot of gender stereotypes that pertain to hiring, but women being overconfident in their job applications is definitely not one of them.  I also have to wonder how many of these respondents are defining "experience" in a self-serving way, like assuming they receive equal "credit" for having a background in baseball instead of softball, or men's hockey instead of women's (despite the men's and women's sports having different rules).

Not surprisingly, therefore, the recommendations section of the report focuses primarily on the barriers to leadership that female coaches are confronting. For example, the report recommended that athletic departments conduct open searches by hiring committees to fill high-level vacancies, including head coach positions.  Departments should also have and follow policies that ensure job duties, evaluations, salaries, and other aspects of employment are handled without regard to gender. I also thought these two recommendations, aimed primarily at the NCAA, were particularly strong:

  • National athletic governance associations should require member institutions to undertake a periodic certification program or other third-party peer review of the operation, processes and policies of its member institution athletic programs to ensure compliance with legal requirements and best practices, including the employment and compensation of coaches.
  • National and conference athletic governance organizations should require that member institution athletic programs must establish policies that require a minimum number of qualified minority applicants to participate in finalist inperson interview pool for all coaching positions.