This literature review on women and sport leadership was conducted for the Gender+ Equity in Sport in Canada Research Hub to serve as a foundational report for strategic research priorities development.
The review took place from July, 2020 to September, 2020.
The results of the initial search, inputting the key search terms listed above into SPORTDiscus database and the academic search engine, Google Scholar, yielded 1,100 articles, which were limited by year (2010 - 2020), peer reviewed, and written in English. Additional seminal pieces identified by research lead.
Abstract review of the 1,100 articles was conducted, from which 104 articles were selected to establish the baseline of existing research. Selection criteria required research focused on women in sport leadership (94 on women in sport leadership, 10 on women in business), written in English, peer reviewed, and exploring populations both in and out of North America (e.g., New Zealand, Norway, Britain, Australia, Canada, and USA). Nine hundred and ninety-six (996) articles were excluded when abstract review revealed the study was older than 2010 (with some exceptions), was a duplicate, was irrelevant (e.g., knee surgery, physiology, etc.), and/or was NCAA-specific (15 key NCAA articles were selected). Grey literature was briefly explored after this process.
● Much of the research focuses on barriers that women in sport face, rather than enabling factors. We could say we know what preventsprogress but much less about what works (What works day-to-day? Norman et al., 2018)
● Even in 2020, there are few women in sport leadership roles - administratively and in coaching - despite increased sport participation by women, there is still a dearth of women leading (e.g., Burton, 2015; Burton & Leberman, 2017a; Demers et al., 2019)
● Compelling arguments and evidence have been put forth in support of gender quotas, however, there is still limited acceptance, particularly from an implementation standpoint (e.g., Adriaanse, 2017a, b; Demers, 20
● Two recent models are helpful and well researched (LaVoi’s 2016 ecological intersectional model of barriers and supports for women coaches; Burton and Leberman’s 2017 structure-agency model of why women remain underrepresented in leadership)
● 19; Sisjord et al., 2019)
● What is often perceived to be gender neutral leadership is actually androcentric, based on the values of hegemonic masculinity (e.g., Brown & Light, 2012; Burton & Leberman, 2017; Hovden, 2000; Leberman & Shaw, 2015; Ryan & Dickson, 2018; Shaw & Hoeber, 2003)
● Recognition of and strategies to overcome subtle and not-so-subtle systemic discrimination and exclusion of women needs to be continued (e.g., Demers et al., 2020; Pape, 2020)
● Further effort is required to invite and encourage female athletes to pursue leadership roles in sport and to define leadership development trajectories including how to navigate sexism, implicit biases in the male dominated workplace and in sport, etc. (e.g., Hindman, 2020; Pape, 2020)
● Corporate sector and other professions have advanced far more than the sport workplace in terms of female participation in leadership roles (e.g., Adriaanse, 2017; Banwell et al., 2019)
● A focused effort is needed to build organizational cultures that support women in leadership roles (Burton & Leberman, 2017; Culver et al., 2019; Evans, 2020)
Top Research Gaps
● What do we know about “allyship” and “sponsorship” and how to cultivate it? Research is required on how women in positions of power (along with men in positions of power) can advocate and promote other women into leadership roles. How to ensure women currently in leadership positions advocate for and promote other women? (Burton & Leberman, 2017; Sotiriadou & de Haan, 2019)
● What should successful sport leadership look like? The “winning at all costs”paradigmneeds to change (ethical issues, abuse, privileges men). And it is important to recognize that the word sport can encompass play, recreational, physical activity and dance movement, as well as competition. Women’s leadership is critical all levels. Sport at all levels should be about learning and leadership, becoming and maintaining health, physically and psychologically, and ensuring, through women’s leadership, that all young girls and women globally have the opportunity to participate and lead (Burton and Leberman, 2017)
● Can we create environments that support women’s multifaceted workloads; what helps them stay vs. step down (agency, Burton and Leberman, 2017; Tingle et al., 2014)? Women need ongoing support - networks, mentorship, sponsorship (Banwell et al., 2020; Wells & Hancock, 2017). We need to better understand women’s lived experiences of inequity, to investigate the experiences of women who either step down or are not appointed to leadership positions. (agency, Burton & Leberman, 2017)
● We need to better understand the electoral procedures of sport organizations beyond ‘formal’ channels - howare informal networks used, and how can a transparent hiring process be implemented? (structure, Burton & Leberman, 2017; Cosentino, 2017; Fasting et al., 2019; Norman, 2019)
Application: Priority Research Questions or Next Steps
● Examine ways to create quotas to accelerate gender equity for women in physical activity and sport (gender quotas, affirmative action), and explore the difficulties and the impact
● Examine ways to change the dominant paradigm in sport leadership – (and “sport” being more than just competitive sport – include physical and mental health, at all levels)
● Examine ways to redefine/reconceptualize leadership in sport - ethical leadership, fierce leadership, gendered perspectives of leadership
● Investigate the benefits of “sponsorship” - the opening of doors and ongoing support of an individual already in a position of power
● Examine the intersection of race, sexual orientation, class, and disability on gender and how that intersectionality influences women’s opportunities for leadership positions in sport
● Develop a five-year longitudinal study to examine the effectiveness of an intervention designed to educate women and men, and provide mentorship and sponsorship for emerging women leaders
● Develop a five-year longitudinal study to examine the effectiveness of implementing quotas for women as leaders in provincial, national and multi-sport organizations and as coaches at the provincial and national level.
A grey literature index compiled in March 2021 can be found via the E-Alliance website.