Shouts From The Stands: Barriers Facing Women Coaches

by SwimSwam 33

September 05th, 2018 Industry, Lifestyle, Opinion

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send them to [email protected]

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Nicole M. LaVoi, Ph.D., Co-Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport. Dr. LaVoi is the editor of the best-selling book, Women in Sports Coaching.

To keep the discussion going, continue to raise awareness and educate those who care about swimming and diving in general and the issues and barriers facing women coaches in particular, this piece will build on the two related pieces previously posted. The first was about data on lack of women head swimming and diving coaches at the collegiate level, the second outlined 8 Reasons Why Women Coaches Matter.

I have been following the discussion and comments on SwimSwam.com pertaining to these two pieces. One comment that came up frequently was that “Women aren’t as interested in coaching as men.” Claiming women aren’t as interested is a false narrative that is often repeated and is a form of blaming women for the lack of women, which is unproductive to increasing the number of women coaches. By blaming women (the people in the system with the least power) the systemic changes that need to occur fail to happen, and the status quo remains in place.

I would encourage readers to read all five pieces I’ve written about on blaming women and false narratives about women coaches. You can also read Women Want to Coach!

Within the system I just mentioned, there are many barriers that prevent, impede and drive women out of coaching. If you want the Full Meal Deal and all the data on these barriers, watch this Distinguished Lecture titled “Paradox, Pitfalls, & Parity: Where Have all the Women Coaches Gone?”

In short these barriers range from societal barriers (sexism, gender bias, racism, homophobia, the mommy penalty, ageism), to organizational barriers (pay inequity, lack of family friendly policies, limited upward mobility, marginalization, homologous reproduction [people tend to hire people like them….meaning men tend to hire men]), to interpersonal barriers (Good ‘ole Boy’s Club, child and household labor, lack of women’s network), to name a few.

Women coaches exist within an occupational landscape and sport system that is dominated by men at every level, in every position, and in nearly in every sport and institution (see here if you need the data!). Most men do not face the intensity nor the number of barriers their women colleagues face, and in fact, based on a 2016 study by the Women’s Sport Foundation many male coaches report they experience reverse discrimination!

The lack of women coaches is not the problem, it is a reflection of a problem. That problem is a culture that does not value and support women. In many cases women coaches face discrimination, harassment, and a hostile or unpleasant work environment and retaliation if they report it. If you don’t believe me, ask THEM! Given this reality, it is not surprising many women do not enter or leave coaching.

I challenge everyone to stop blaming women for the lack of women coaches and start thinking about and acting on ways to change the culture so that all women feel valued and supported.

About Nicole M. La Voi, PhD

Nicole M. LaVoi, Ph.D. is a Senior Lecturer in the area of social and behavioral sciences in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota where she is also the Co-Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport. She received MA (’96) and doctoral degrees (’02) in Kinesiology with an emphasis in sport psychology/sociology from the University of Minnesota. After completing her graduate work, Dr. LaVoi was a Research & Program Associate in the Mendelson Center for Sport & Character at the University of Notre Dame (2002-‘05) where she helped launch the Play Like a Champion character education through sport series, and was also an instructor in the Psychology Department. LaVoi was an Assistant Professor of Physical Education and the Head Women’s Tennis Coach at Wellesley College (1994-’98), and the Assistant Women’s Tennis Coach at Carleton College (1991-’93).

Through her multidisciplinary research she answers critical questions that can make a difference in the lives of sport stakeholders—particularly girls and women. As a leading scholar on women coaches LaVoi has published numerous book chapters, research reports and peer reviewed articles across multiple disciplines. Her seminal research includes the annual Women in College Coaching Report Card which is aimed at retaining and increasing the number of women in the coaching profession, and a groundbreaking book Women in Sports Coaching (2016). She also collaborates with colleagues on media representations of females in sport, including co-producing an Emmy-winning best sports documentary titled Media Coverage & Female Athletes: Women Play Sports, Just Not in the Media (2013), and has a new documentary with tptMN coming out in November 2018 titled Game ON: Women Can Coach. As a public scholar she speaks frequently to sport stakeholders around the globe and serves on national advisory boards for the Sports Advocacy Netowrk of the Women’s Sport Foundation, espnW and WeCOACH (formerly the Alliance of Women Coaches). She is also the founder and director of the annual Women Coaches Symposium held on the U of MN campus which serves over 350+ women coaches of all sport and all levels. LaVoi focuses her research on the relational qualities of the coach-athlete relationship, the physical activity of underserved girls, the barriers and supports experienced by female coaches, and media representations of girls and women in sport.

LaVoi played four years of intercollegiate tennis at Gustavus Adolphus College where her team placed 4th (’89), 2nd (’91) and won the NCAA-III National Championships in 1990. She is a two-time NCAA Academic All-American.

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Apso
3 years ago

Thank you, again, Dr. LaVoi, for your follow up and continued attention to this critical matter facing women coaches.

John Bradley
3 years ago

Thank you for writing this!

Coach Mike 1952
3 years ago

Dr. LaVoi, you have hit the nail on the head with your comment about the culture of devaluation being the real, underlying issue.

50free
3 years ago

If Saying that women aren’t applying is “blaming woman” for the problem, then whose fault is it when you don’t get a job that you didn’t even apply for. Also this is kind of discriminatory against men. By saying they had an easier time getting their job is belittling their qualifications and accomplishments. If someone said “You only got that job because you are a woman.” everyone would freak out.

BSWIMMER
Reply to  50free
3 years ago

Thank you! Im a male in a very predominately female profession and still my accomplishments are attributed to me being a man not to my work ethics or skills. Why cant equal be equal?

Just leave that there
Reply to  50free
3 years ago

Someone’s about 2 sentences away from pitching the incel movement.

Patrick
3 years ago

I still want data. Number of female applicants for different coaching positions? Surveys where women say they want to go into coaching? Surveys of women who coach age group but never move up to big time college positions? To fix the problem we need a better understanding of how many women are at each level of coaching, and how many are really trying to climb to the very top of the coaching ranks. I say this as a male coach and teacher who has worked with USA Swimming club teams and a high school team, but has no interest in coaching a college team. There are many of us out here of both genders who choose a balanced life helping… Read more »

Midwest coach
Reply to  Patrick
3 years ago

I’ve hired an assistant coach twice. First time there were 34 applicants, 9 were female. Second time 40 applicants, 10 females.

College Coach
Reply to  Patrick
3 years ago

Agreed, numbers are never a bad thing. However, it’s hard for me to believe that women just don’t want to be coaches. There is a very clear history of women being discouraged in the workplace and it would be naive to assume that things have changed entirely now. Even if it had its hard to catch up when you start so far behind.

Old School
3 years ago

At the risk of stirring the pot…
I think an important difference in the data results is in the number of combined M/W college swimming programs compared with other sports. In other sports there are more opportunities to be a head coach (especially women coaching women) because programs are split. It seems to make sense to me that there are a higher number of female head women’s soccer coaches out there because there are no combined M/W soccer teams. I”m not saying that women shouldn’t lead combined teams, I”m just saying there is less opportunity in swimming because of our coaching structure as a sport. This doesn’t mean there isn’t sexism or forces institutionally that are keeping women from… Read more »

Dr. Nicole M. LaVoi
Reply to  Old School
3 years ago

Actually the % of women head coaches of women’s soccer teams at the collegiate level is ~25%, so your idea of more opportunity means more women does not hold up to the data.

Old School
Reply to  Dr. Nicole M. LaVoi
3 years ago

Ok, maybe soccer wasn’t the right sport example, I just picked one out of thin air. My point is that with double the number of opportunities in swimming, there should be double the number of female swimming head coaches even if the percentages never change. I would argue that the percentage would increase because I think there is a bias against women coaching men (thus keeping them out of combined programs more). With more opportunities for women to coach women, I would guess the percentage might increase as well.
Dr. Lavoi – How do you feel about colleges requiring male head coaches to hire female assistants possibly at the expense of hiring the most qualified candidate? Should colleges open… Read more »

Admin
Reply to  Old School
3 years ago

Every time I read a comment about “hiring the most qualified candidate” as a response to a gender inequity in hiring I chuckle a little. Any person in a position of hiring that believes that they always hire the candidate who would have done the best job might not have proper perspective and self-awareness to be in a management position.

I’ve hired about 12 assistant coaches in my life (I’d say, on rough math, it’s been about 50/50 for male/female). In hindsight, I’d probably declare that in about 8 of those 12 positions, I made the right decision. There’s one that comes with no debate that we whiffed and did not make the best hire for the program, but fortunately… Read more »

Caeleb Dressel Will Get 9 Golds in Tokyo
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

I would like to see evidence of a bias though. It probably exists in places, but until I see evidence I just see it as whining and putting men down. Just because women don’t fill as many roles as men DOES NOT equal bias or sexism. I want some real science here. The recruiters usually pick men, and more men do look for a coaching position than women. For the rest, it often could be just selecting the best person for the job, because there are a lot great female coaches out there. Making assumptions and making an article about it without presenting the numbers is what would never get passed among scientists. If we continue to do this, and… Read more »

Admin

Caeleb Dressel Will Get etc. etc. (Your username is too long) – scope that data. What would that study look like? There are a lot of institutions, both public and private, investing a lot of money into researching these problems. If you scope out a study that would convince you that it’s happening, then that’s a valuable conversation.

To pretend that the lack of women actually in coaching roles isn’t evidence of a bias is disingenuous. It’s not irrefutable, undeniable, unovercomeable evidence, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not evidence. If you put this in front of a jury, the first thing the jury is going to ask is “how many women are actually coaching?”

Apso
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

Sound argument, Braden. Thanks.

Caeleb Dressel Will Get 9 Golds in Tokyo
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

We see that men fill out more coaching roles than women overall. We need to gather data on how many women apply for coaching jobs, and what coaching position they apply for. For example, in head coaching, women may not have as much experience because they don’t apply for it as much, but other men may have more experience. This may not be based on gender bias, but simply on what experience that certain women have as coaches. This is all conjecture for now, because there has not yet been a sincere study by real scientists who want to find out the actual data yet. Men only have 330,000 nursing positions in the US. Women have 10 times as much… Read more »

SheCanCoach

In club coaching I was asked what are your career goals – to coach college swimming possibly even being a head coach.

In the beginning it was hard to get closer to that goal because for 6 years and 3 different teams in 3 different states I was placed into coaching 12 & unders. So I never traveled to or step on deck at senior meets to meet other senior coaches to network and get closer to that goal.

It took one male boss out of 3 to understand and listen to my goals to shift that change. Where I was coaching a senior group and freedom in my schedule to be a volunteer assistant at a college… Read more »

KinSwim

Dear CDWG9GIT: You do not get to tell other people what they have or have not experienced. I clearly state to you that, as a professional coach who just happens to be female, and a head coach of over 25 years duration, who trained and competed in the 70s… yes, I have spent my life in this sport, that I have experienced, and the women I have mentored have experienced, repeated subtle, overt, blatant and repeated gender discrimination. You can like it or not, but you cannot tell any of us it didn’t happen. You can also not tell any of us we are men bashing, because a great deal of it came from women board members, women volunteers. There… Read more »

Old School
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

Braden, I think we are essentially in agreement on one thing- when candidates are close in qualifications it becomes muddy as to who is the “best” candidate and leaves the door open to our own bias. Of course we feel like we’ve hired the best candidate in those situations. I’m talking about assistant coaching positions when it’s not even close and mandated that a woman needs to be hired. In that case, I know I didn’t hire the best candidate, but we were required to hire the best female, not the best coach (not that a female can’t be the best coach, but if I have 3 men who are clearly more qualified and can’t hire them because of their… Read more »

SheCanCoach
Reply to  Old School
3 years ago

What about every male who left who has been replaced with a male.

Old School
Reply to  SheCanCoach
3 years ago

I have been coaching college for over 20 years. I have never had anyone tell me I had to hire a male nor have I ever heard another head coach say they had to hire a male. When I have male assistants who are looking to climb the ladder or when I have male swimmers looking to get into coaching, I constantly hear “I need to hire a woman for this position” from other head coaches. There are positions that are open to everyone and there are positions that are only open to women. That is the reality.

Swim Mom
Reply to  Old School
3 years ago

Dr. Lavoi, what exactly do you propose as the way to encourage the hiring of more women coaches? There are clearly not a tremendous number of women applying for coaching jobs, and you can’t require hiring of one gender over another. Are you advocating an awareness campaign?

Apso
Reply to  Swim Mom
3 years ago

An awareness campaign would be good, both about the hurdles to hiring AND retaining women coaches. This would need to include how gender bias manifests at all levels (hiring process, views of SA’s towards coaches, reaction of admins/parents, etc.).

Wuddit
3 years ago

Hiring is certainly a problem, but so is retention for the variety of reasons mentioned in this article. The B1G has purged nearly all of its women head coaches (down to Novitsky at Illinois) and replaced them with men, some of whom were much less qualified and will likely not face the same level of scrutiny for their coaching style as the outgoing women did.

KinSwim
3 years ago

This is a larger issue that just US college swimming. Gathering the data globally on swim coaching is a herculean task. Further gathering of data to figure out WHY the numbers are the way they are would be a ten-year research project. I’m going to ask questions here, and granted, a couple might raise some hackles, but for you not-female coaches out there, please think it through before you reply.

1) How many not-female coaches have not been renewed in their employment for the probable reason that, unlike every female assistant before and after you, you did not enter into an interpersonal relationship of the very personal kind, with the head coach?

2) How many not-female coaches have been asked… Read more »

dmswim
Reply to  KinSwim
3 years ago

I would upvote this 10 times if I could.

SheCanCoach
Reply to  KinSwim
3 years ago

Don’t forget asked if you plan to get pregnant and how do you plan to coach and be a mom/dad