We need more diversity in sports organisations

Boards of sporting bodies need more women to drive participation, says SWIS's Maureen McGonigle

We’re starting the conversation, levelling the playing field, ensuring that ‘every girl and her grandma can’ but still the news is depressing in regards to female participation in sport, writes Maureen McGonigle.

What is it that stops girls from participating in sport and for those who do participate, what exactly is the issue for many as they drop of the radar when at they reach their teens, and in many cases before then?

Is a difficult question to answer, however that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work hard at finding it. We read all the time about the problem, but let’s be assured here, there are many solutions currently being developed by many different sporting organisations, hoping that they can encourage more participation.

However, International Women’s Day highlights one of the issues that I believe impacts on female participation in sport. This is the lack of diversity within most of our sporting organisations highlighted by the statistic that only 14% of CEO roles in Scottish sport are currently held by a women.

As Judy Murray eloquently stated ‘Women so much better understand how girls think and behave and what their needs are’ and ensuring that there is gender parity on a board, will help change and shape things that will have a stronger appeal to young girls and women.

Now this is not a ‘dig’ at the organisations themselves, it is more of a reality check when we look at the figures that have been produced by Engender, a Scottish based feminist organisation whose vision is for a Scotland in which women and men have equal opportunities in life, equal access to resources and power, and are equally safe and secure from harm.

Many sporting boards now understand and want to include diversity on their board, however the talent pool is still quite small and that in itself is part of the problem that keeps the numbers low. A diverse board brings together a broad wealth of experience and offers different solutions.

Our campaign for IWD 2017 #BeBold forChange, was to highlight the research noted in a report by by Dr. Johanna Adriaanse international expert in sport, women and gender equality, from Australia.

Based on the Sydney Scoreboard Global Index for Women in Sport Leadership, her report shows that women chaired only 7% (5 of 70) of international sport federations in 2016 the same as in 2012, and that women occupied 19% (12 of 64) of chief executive positions in 2016, up from 8% in 2012.

The other interesting part of the report was her understanding that gender balance in board composition – usually defined as between 40-60% of either gender, is still a long way off. She added that according to critical mass theory, when the size of a group reaches a certain threshold or critical mass, only then does that group gain trust and influence.

She went on to say that research in the public and corporate sectors has found that having just one or two women on a board does not substantially change gender dynamics, it does not admit women’s voices and ideas. Without a critical mass, one or two women on board stand out, and can be fiercely scrutinised and stereotyped. They run the risk of being perceived as the “token” woman, the one fulfilling a target or quota, and as a result are not taken seriously.

So that age old questions still exists, do quotas work or do they do more harm than good. Whatever the answer is to the question, I hope that this time next year the statistics prove much more positive reading.

Maureen McGonigle is the founder of the charity Scottish Women in Sport. For further information go to www.scottishwomeninsport.co.uk