Durham study finds women sidelined for leadership roles in sport


A recent study, conducted by academics from Durham University Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, revealed that men continue to outnumber women in positions of power in sport.

This comes despite the fact that women’s participation in sport as both athletes and fans is at an all-time high.

The research was recently published in Sage Journals.

The study was carried out using archival material from the National Football Museum, based in Manchester City Centre. The team analysed the patterns of women’s participation in leadership roles over 30 years and examined the recent gender pay gap reports of men’s football clubs in England.

From this analysis, they discovered that just four percent of the work conducted by women in leadership roles within men’s club football, was in direct contact with the players. These roles included football development, directors, and sport science positions.

However, 50 percent of women’s leadership work was in commercial and sales, club secretary, ticketing, and finance.

The research paper is written by PhD student Ameé Bryan, Dr Stacey Pope, and Dr AJ Rankin-Wright.

Just four per cent of the work conducted by women in leadership roles within men’s football clubs, was in direct contact with the players

Bryan said: “This year’s Women’s FA cup final will take place at Wembley stadium, exactly 100 years after the FA banned women from playing football. This signals the huge progress women have made in sport as athletes, however men continue to dominate in leadership roles in sport, in particular in football.

“While the under-representation of women in leadership positions is a universal problem, gender inequalities in sport leadership are particularly stark.

“Men’s club football in England makes an especially interesting focus because it has a strong cultural connection to working-class men and masculinities and is often considered one of the last bastions of patriarchy.

“In fact, the industry has a history of excluding women from playing, watching, and coaching football, and it is for these reasons we argue that men’s club football in England is an extreme example of gendered organisation – an organisation that exists to reinforce masculine superiority.”

Bryan added: “We found that women’s leadership work has been peripheral to the core function of men’s club football in England. These findings are the first to show that women’s exclusion from football extends beyond just player and coaching roles into leadership roles proximate to the organisational core, i.e. the male players and the playing of football matches.

“Framing men’s club football as an ‘extremely gendered’ organisation allows us to understand ‘core’ roles as the most symbolically important to preserving football’s masculine character. Consequently, we argue that accommodating women in ‘peripheral’ leadership roles will not transform or disrupt the extremely masculine character of football.”

Gender pay gap reports are an opportunity for organisations to explain, reflect upon, address gender inequalities

As part of the research project, the academics analysed the gender pay gap, which recently received political pressure to reduce gender inequalities. As well as revealing the average pay difference between women and men in an organisation, gender pay gap reports are an opportunity for organisations to explain, reflect upon, and address gender inequalities.

Bryan said: “In 2017, clubs with over 250 employees had to submit gender pay gap data and out of the 92 men’s teams in the top four divisions, 48 clubs out of 92 met the criteria. Some clubs chose to exclude the wages of the men’s players, under the basis that these were gender-specific roles and women could not play for a men’s football team.

“However, many teams also excluded coaching staff wages on the same basis, despite these roles – unlike player roles – being gender-neutral. By excluding the wages of coaching staff, most of which are carried out by men, they not only obscured the true extent of pay inequality in core roles, they also failed to interrogate the phenomenon of all-male coaching teams.

“This data suggests that men’s football clubs have used gender pay gap reporting as an opportunity to reinforce men’s dominance in football by failing to expose and address inequalities between women and men, especially in core leadership roles.

“Until women are involved in equal proportion to men in core operational leadership roles, equality will never be achieved.”

On the Periphery: Examining Women’s Exclusion From Core Leadership Roles in the “Extremely Gendered” Organization of Men’s Club Football in England – in full here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/08912432211046318

Image: @TeamDurham via Twitter

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