Crisis in Female Coaches Shortchanges Women, Athletes

Today’s female athletes are half as likely to have women head coaches as before the passage of Title IX in 1972

Sex discrimination, extreme workloads, lack of family- friendly jobs and bias against minorities and lesbians are to blame for the dearth of women in varsity coaching, according to a new report from Pennsylvania State University. As a result, today's female athletes are half as likely to have women head coaches as before the passage of Title IX in 1972, depriving them of female role models and the inclination to pursue careers in sports management, promotion, broadcasting or related fields after ending their days as athletes.

Because there are 10 times as many female varsity athletes today as when Title IX was passed, coaching women's teams has changed from a volunteer or part-time job to one that attracts breadwinners–mostly men. But the informal ways coaches are trained, evaluated and hired means the good old boy’s network of recruiting and hiring by asking “Who do you know?” continues to rob female coaches of career opportunities.

The report stems from a study, “CAGE: The Coaching and Gender Equity Project.” Principal investigators were Dr. Robert Drago, professor of labor studies and Women’s Studies at Penn State and Lynn Hennighausen, work-life consultant and author of Shades of Grey, with Jacqueline Rogers, Teresa Vescio and Kai Dawn Stauffer.

Funders were the NCAA, the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators (NACWAA) and Penn State’s Commission for Women and Athletics.

It began with a casual thought by Hennighausen, who had met Drago previously at a work/life conference, about how she would feel if she couldn’t discuss her family at work, which is the way a woman told her she felt about working in a male-dominated campus athletics department. Hennighausen and Drago agreed to do a study that would focus on work/family issues in college athletics departments.

Methodology combined quantitative and qualitative research. They analyzed data from the biennial report on gender equity in collegiate athletics by Acosta and Carpenter, the U.S. Census, a report by Dr. Mary Ann Mason and Mark Goulden on discrimination against campus women and gender equity reports by the NCAA. For anecdotal evidence they held focus groups with 41 female athletes in all three NCAA divisions and 38 female coaches and administrators.

Drago told WIHE that the commercialization of athletics has resulted in the average Division I school spending $3 million on women’s sports. Yet the continued informality of hiring coaches for women’s teams shocked and amazed him. “We’re stirring the pot,” he said.

“We’ve already done so much more in the corporate world,” Drago told WIHE, including supporting affirmative action, defined career paths, certification, partner benefits and diversity training. Hennighausen said campus athletics was “20 years behind the corporate world” in creating family-friendly environments for employees.

Why fewer female coaches?

Acosta and Carpenter have conducted a longitudinal study of gender equity in campus athletics since 1977. They documented the explosion in women athletes and women’s teams but the steady decline in women head coaches of the teams. Women were head coaches of more than 90% of women’s teams in 1972 but were only 44.1% in 2004, the second lowest level ever except in 2002, when it was 40.0%.

Women coach less than 2% of men’s teams, and are nearly absent from the position of athletics director. They’re most likely to get lower-paid coaching jobs at schools in Divisions II and III and as assistant coaches.

The 65-page CAGE report–documented with 33 references and 41 footnotes–provides these answers:

  • “Historical evidence indicates that sex discrimination played a central role in driving the decline,” the CAGE report said, with men gaining the majority of jobs due to “the largely informal and poorly defined career tracks” in athletics. “When 'who do you know?’ becomes as important as 'what do you know?’ discriminatory attitudes can loom large in hiring decisions,” the report said.
  • Macho athletics departments routinely exclude women administrators from participating in the “hard” decisions on finances and physical plants, resulting in snafus like a university putting only one electrical outlet in its new women’s locker room.
  • Often exposed to only the male model of coaching, female athletes often state a preference for male coaches, parroting social stereotyping in labeling women coaches as less serious and more emotional. Few have ever had a female coach.
  • Extreme workloads exclude life balance. Coaches and administrators describe “jobs that never end,” since female coaches work an average of 2,400 hours per year. Athletes notice their coaches leading “lives that are crazy.”
  • Lack of family-friendly jobs means coaches have little chance for a life outside of the job. Only 29.8% of female coaches were married, compared with 55.3% of other women working full time nationally. Only 17.8% of female coaches were rearing children, compared with 44.6% of other women. Male coaches were just as likely as other working men to be married, and only 6% less likely than other employed men to be rearing children. Practices, games and recruiting trips at hours outside the 9-to-5 timeframe prevent a normal family life.
  • Discrimination against minorities and lesbians further erodes the pipeline. Although about 20% of female athletes are non-white, fewer than 10% of coaches are.

Lesbians face overt discrimination in hiring and promotion. The U.S. Census for 2000 reports a ridiculously low figure of 3% of full-time women coaches being lesbians (defined as living together in a committed relationship) so the study authors doubled it to 6%.

Some coaches use the hint of another school’s female coach being a lesbian to sign recruits or to deter an AD from hiring a woman coach.

What can be done?

The CAGE report suggests two principles that might reverse the decline in women coaches. “Integration” would mean a student athlete of either sex has an equal chance of being coached by a women or man. Although a worthy long-term goal, that is unlikely to happen any time soon on men’s teams.

 “Separate but equal” would have women’s teams coached by women and men’s by men. Since Title IX applies to gender equity for athletes but does not cover coaches and administrators, “separate but equal hiring per se is almost certainly illegal,” the report said.

In the absence of attaining either of these principles, the CAGE report outlines many steps schools can take to increase the number and influence of women in athletics coaching and administration.

  • Increase the number of women in the coaching pipeline at all levels, starting at the elementary level or before. Mothers should be encouraged to coach their children’s teams. Coaching internships could provide formal training for student athletes.
  • Formalize hiring practices, decision-making processes, training and development and coaching career paths. All paid coaching jobs should be controlled by formal, affirmative action components to assure a large and equitable pool of candidates. Training and development for coaches should be formalized, culminating in certification of coaches for all sports, not only in soccer, the only sport with a formal certification process. Colleges and universities should support training programs to develop women coaches by sending their female athletics staff to programs by NACWAA and the NCAA.
  • Adapt coaching and athletics administration careers to the realities of life and families. Consider needs of coaches and trainers in setting practice times, games and tournaments. Ways to do this include reduced hours, paid family leaves, use of part-time staff and on-site or nearby childcare and after school care. Support employees with families by welcoming their children to athletic events, valuing quality of work over face time and cross-training employees so they can cover for each other.
  • Create a more inclusive environment in athletic departments that welcomes women, minorities and lesbians. Ensure that all employees and students know the school’s sexual harassment and diversity policies. The NCAA should expand its diversity objectives from “enhancing opportunities for ethnic minorities and women” to include improved opportunities for lesbians.

 Advocates of gender equity in campus athletics now have a blueprint for action, documented with data and inspired by the all-American goal of justice for all, with or without a Y chromosome. What Title IX has done for women athletes on campus, the CAGE study can do for women coaches and administrators of campus athletics.

CAGE report: http://|

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