Sunday, March 08, 2015

Lots happening on women in coaching and leadership

I have been meaning to write this post for several weeks now and it seems appropriate to do so--finally--on International Women's Day.

There has been a fairly significant (relatively speaking) media attention given to the issue of women coaching women's sports in the past few weeks. Both Erin and I have been speaking to the press and on radio (here, here, and here) answering questions about why there is a lack of female coaches, the specific situations at Iowa and Minnesota Duluth, and if Title IX can address this issue.

The statistics have been stated: the percentage of women coaching women's teams at the intercollegiate level has dropped from approximately 90% when Title IX was passed to its present percentage of approximately 40%; there has been no comparable (or rather none at all) rise in women coaching men's sports. While we appreciate the coverage this issue has received, these are not new numbers. This is not a new problem.

The answer to the why now question is most likely due to these high-profile cases coming in quick succession. It is important to note though that these are high profile cases because the coaches involved have challenged their firings. We have seen coaches file complaints and lawsuits in the past (Fresno State, FGCU are just two examples) after being fired. The frame in these cases though has been one of retaliation. Most of those coaches felt they were being retaliated against for complaining about and challenging the treatment of their women's programs. Title IX's protection against retaliation is clear and several of these cases resulted in large jury awards. They still, however, lost their jobs and many have not gotten back into coaching, in part because the situation for female coaches is so dismal.

This has been the focus of the current debate: the culture in which female coaches work. This is an important conversation (also not new but seemingly now more public). It has also inspired a closer look at programs. The Tucker Center released its women coaches report card recently. Miller and her advocates have spoken about the lack of athletic department support for women's ice hockey. At Iowa, former field hockey coach Beth Beglin compiled a very thorough and quite disheartening report about the state of the athletic department since the women's and men's departments merged in 2000--and more specifically what has happened since current AD Gary Barta took over in 2006. Beglin notes that in this time 83% of female head coaches have been fired. In the same time only 11% of male head coaches have been let go.

Last week the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports released its annual report card about the state of gender and racial equality in intercollegiate sports. From the report summary: College sport received a C+ for racial hiring practices by earning 78.5 points, down from 82.3 points in the 2013 report card. College sport received a C- for gender hiring practices by earning 69.4 points down from 75.9 points.

Lost in the recent conversations have been discussions of race. All of the women we have been talking about are white women. The picture of the female head coach is most often of a white woman. This weekend, discussing stereotypical images of female leaders in sports with friends, I rather uncritically presented a white woman as the norm. And though the statistics certainly bear out this picture, the absence is in dire need of being addressed whenever we are discussing women in leadership positions. The norm has to be challenged.