Address your gender mix
It won’t come as a shock to many in the business of sport that the issue of gender diversity remains a very real concern, especially when it comes to the higher echelon roles.
I chaired a recent Sports Leaders’ Breakfast discussion on this critical issue, which examined some of the challenges women in sport face in trying to climb the ladder into senior positions, what women can do to ensure their competitiveness, as well as highlighted the benefits that a healthy gender mix can bring to organisations.
The current state of play for women
Every region and culture in the business of sport has its own nuances, and this is magnified when it comes to gender diversity within organisations. The USA traditionally has led the way in opportunities for women when compared to other regions. Much of this can be traced back to the federal law Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex for any federally-funded educational programme or activity.
Signed into law by President Nixon in 1972, Title IX heralded an explosion in the number of women participating in sport, which has propelled women into post-university employment within sport in record numbers.
However successful Title IX has proven in the USA, it hasn’t been replicated widely around the world and the difference in opportunity levels for women from region to region is stark.
There have been moves from funding bodies to mandate greater female participation at board level, but our breakfast discussion highlighted that these kinds of initiatives, while very much welcome, haven’t yet impacted upon the number of women in mid to senior level corporate roles.
It is this pool of employees from which future GM/CEO and board level positions will be selected, and ensuring women are represented here in greater numbers is vital.
How women can ensure their competitiveness
It’s often said that women tend to be less aggressive in their career demands than men, and are less likely to put their hand up and go for something if they don’t feel they are a perfect fit for the role.
While this may be a generalisation, if women are to make those critical breakthroughs, they need encouragement from both men and women in senior roles to take a step up.
Organisations should also look at the practical areas of their business where they can make their workplace more attractive to women, particularly those with families, such as flexibility in working hours and access to childcare.
Having more women in senior roles matters
Organisations should evaluate what qualities are required to lead sports businesses and understand that “Type A” male extroverts are not always required – and can often do more harm than good.
There is huge potential to transform the more traditional, male and often short term sales-driven approach into a more progressive, strategic and balanced environment, which, in the long run helps create the backbone for business strength and stability.
It is vital that organisations are open and honest about their current state of play. It is not enough to say they have a 50/50 gender split in their business. If you drill down to where they are, almost all organisations will start to see the skew towards a female bias in lower level roles across administrative, HR and marketing functions.
We are starting to see some strong trends that women are indeed being hired into sport business roles more often – the number of women placed into sport roles by SRi increased 19% last year – but a lion’s share of the commercial, leadership and operations roles SRi works on will still go to a man. Companies are certainly missing out on great female talent, both internally and externally.
The increasingly professional nature of sport has transformed the industry into big business. Therefore, functional skills across finance, legal and commercial negotiation are now more and more in demand. This makes it imperative that women ensure they advance their knowledge of these areas, in order to be in the running to lead organisations in the future.
After highlighting the importance of workplace diversity, everyone must commit to being aware of this issue. Recruiters must make that extra effort to ensure they present representative short lists.
Businesses must also ensure they are an attractive proposition to women, that they can see strong female executives within the organisation and create the pathway for younger women to build their career.
In a landmark report, McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
Can your organisation really afford to not hire more women?
Helen Soulsby is the Managing Partner in Asia for SRi, an international management consultancy and executive search company specialising in the sports, media and entertainment market.
Leading teams in Singapore and Beijing, Helen’s role is to drive performance and growth in the Asia business through partnering with clients to deliver executive search assignments, as well as advising on executive board structures to best lead overall business strategy.
The SRi Asia team has built a reputation as the leading business in the region in delivering multi-hire projects that enable businesses to launch in the Asia region with maximum impact.