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There Aren’t Many Women Coaching College Sports, Here’s Why | NYT Opinion



Title IX, passed in 1972, transformed American sports — it decided girls deserved the same opportunities as boys to play sports. From then on, men and women in college had to receive equal treatment on the playing field and equal funding for their athletic programs. Now the United States produces many of the best female athletes in the world.

But that equality stops at graduation.

Before Title IX, women were head coaches of more than 90 percent of women’s college teams. Passage of the law flooded women’s sports with money and created many more jobs, many of which went to men. Now about 40 percent of women’s college teams are coached by women. Only about 3 percent of men’s college teams are coached by women.

That means that men have roughly double the number of opportunities to coach. It only gets worse higher up the administrative ladder: 89 percent of Division I college athletic directors are men.

Without equal opportunities to lead, women don’t.

The pioneering female college coaches in the Video Op-Ed above explain how coaching is no different from any other C.E.O. or leadership role — teams could win more games by including the other half of the population and leveraging their talents.

If we can’t fix the leadership gender gap in sports, where can we fix it? Sports are entertainment, and they should reflect our values at their most unvarnished. We pass laws that make our daughters feel empowered while they are girls, and sell sneakers through ads with names like “The Girl Effect.” We put girls in sports so that they learn the best person wins. We teach them they’re in a meritocracy — until we leave them on their own come adulthood.

And so girls and boys grow up being led by men. Guess who they come to believe are the real leaders?

We all know the trope: When a woman doesn’t lead well, it’s evidence that women can’t lead. When a man doesn’t work out, he wasn’t the right fit. Women need to be twice as good, often while working twice as hard, to stay in the game. A lot of women leave. And when you let an entire category of people disappear from your talent pool, everyone suffers.

By not diversifying, college teams are quite literally leaving points on the field.

Adding women to leadership roles improves the overall performance of a team, across fields. According to a Harvard study, gender-balanced teams perform better than male-dominated teams. A 2019 Harvard Business Review study found that “women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones.” Another analysis of gender studies shows that when it comes to leadership skills, men excel at confidence, whereas women stand out for competence.

Absolute parity between the numbers of male and female coaches isn’t just a goal for the sake of a goal. We should worry about why these ratios and regression are as striking as they are and whether there’s a chance we might be keeping them this way.

Other sectors have made significant progress toward gender parity at the leadership level. Some industries have increased female leadership when C.E.O.s follow a version of this playbook: publicly call for change, set realistic data targets and demand to be held accountable.

Nine years ago, only 13 percent of the largest 350 publicly traded companies in Britain had female leadership. Together, they publicly pledged to achieve 30 percent, and by making their data transparent, they celebrated reaching “the 30 Percent Club” in 2019. Norway took a more blunt approach with quotas, and the N.F.L. adopted the Rooney Rule in 2003 that requires teams with a head-coaching vacancy to interview a minority candidate. That has helped increase the number of minority coaches by 20 percent, according to one study.

The N.C.A.A. in general and college sports conferences, like the Big 10 and the SEC in particular, could borrow from these models. (This report ranks schools according to the percentage of female coaches they employ.)

Think of all the championships being left on the field by limiting the talent pool to half the population. That’s why university presidents, alumni and fans should demand realistic, data-based metrics and hold schools accountable, just as they do with their teams on the field. Seismic change starts at the top with university presidents, athletic directors and the N.C.A.A.

Today we raise our little girls to follow their dreams and to excel. That is, until they become women and expect to be paid for it.

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