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Gender Equity in Sport – Women on Boards

In the last article, we discussed gender equity in sport and getting more women and girls in play. This article, we are discussing gender equity on boards, and, specifically, the under-representation of women on sport boards. The article will summarize the academic research on this topic. As well, the article will offer some suggestions on how sport organizations could work to achieve greater gender equity.

What We Know

There is a substantial body of research that has investigated what is behind the under-representation of women on volunteer sport boards. There are factors that contribute to gender inequity on boards, but beneath these practices is a prevalent belief. This belief is that under-representation stems from the capacities, attitudes, and decisions of women themselves, or women as a group, instead of identifying organizational constraints that might deter women from pursuing these positions. This is known as a masculine hegemony. In other words, the practices that are commonplace within board settings are masculine and support traditionally masculine behaviours. Throughout the literature, it was commonly believed by both men and women, that female under-representation is caused by women themselves, and not men, or existing practices and structures.

Factors at Play

Above this masculine hegemony, there are a variety of factors that impact gender equity, and these can be categorized as personal, contextual, and interpersonal factors.

Personal Factors

Much of the research on this subject found personal factors as a reason that there were not as many women on sport organization boards as men. One personal factor was a belief that not many women had the necessary credentials or governance experience to qualify for a board position, and that “talented women were difficult to recruit”. A second personal factor was that it was assumed that only women with minimal personal responsibilities, such as those without kids or a job, would be more likely to join boards than their counterparts with kids and employment. A third personal factor was the prevailing belief that most women were not willing to stand for nomination for board positions. Finally,  a fourth personal factor was the belief that women lacked the technical knowledge of the sport required to sit on the board.

Contextual Factors

Contextual factors were also found to contribute to less women sitting on volunteer sport boards. The first was whether women already sat on the board. The more women on the board, the greater likelihood that women would be recruited to that board. The second factor was whether there were positions available for women to fill. If there were no vacancies on the board, it was impossible for women to join the board. The third factor was whether the board used a gender equity policy, similar to the one that Hockey Canada implemented on their board. If they did, they were more likely to have women on their boards.

Interpersonal Factors

There were also interpersonal factors that impacted gender equity on volunteer sport boards. Women were more likely to join and stay on volunteer sport boards when they felt that their contributions were valued. Likewise, women were more likely to join and stay on volunteer sport boards when they were assigned meaningful roles, responsibilities, and tasks, and were not placed on a board simply to ‘fill the seat’. Many of the females interviewed in this research felt that their performances (as in, how they completed their tasks, roles and responsibilities) had to be better than their male counterparts, in order to receive the same recognition for what they had done.

What Can Be Done to Improve Gender Equity

The good news is that there are several tangible ways to change practices in order to improve gender equity on volunteer sport boards. Here are 6 ways to start:

1. Gender Equity Policy

If you are interested to recruit more women to your organization’s board because your board has not historically had many women, implement a gender equity or inclusivity policy. A gender equity policy should set the minimum gender balance of male and female participants, not the maximum. However, an inclusivity policy expands beyond gender, to reflect the diversity of your organization, including individuals that are Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, individuals of diverse genders, or individuals with a disability.

2. Collect Representative Feedback

Next, be sure to collect feedback that reflects the diversity of the organization. And then, consider that feedback in earnest. As well, include the demographic you are making decisions for in that decision making. For example, if you are developing a female coach mentorship program, be sure to include women’s feedback in the development of that program, as they will have many good ideas that could make your program even stronger.

3. Be Proactive with Recruitment

Be proactive in your recruitment of the people you’re not representing on your board. Start searching early, and ask people directly. Personal invitations are much more effective than open calls for nominations. Consider recruiting women, and people, to other roles, such as committees, before you invite them onto the board.

4. Build Mentorship Programs

Consider assigning more experienced board members to be mentors of new board members. This is not simply a recommendation for female board members. This practice is helpful in building a supportive, connected, and educational environment for people to further build their skills.

5. Educate Your Board Members

Instituting education programs and training for all board members is a helpful of tactic as well. This is an effective strategy for several reasons. First, volunteer literature states that providing appropriate onboarding is an effective retention measure. As well, you ensure that everyone is on the same page and is working from the same knowledge base. Plus, this can effective from a risk management standpoint, by covering your bases in case you recruit a lemon who has fibbed about their knowledge and experience.

6. Succession Planning

Consider implementing a policy that limits how long board members can sit on the board before stepping off to take a break. This will bring fresh perspectives and expertise to your board, and will offer new individuals that opportunity to contribute, women included.

Gender equity is not simply a check-box exercise. Gender equity can result in greater organizational strength, greater relationships and partnerships, and greater participant retention. Consider what gender equity can do for your organization.


Adriaanse, J. A. & Schofield, T. (2013). Analysing gender dynamics in sport governance: A new regimes-based approach. Sport Management Review, 16, 498-513.

Adriaanse, J. & Schofield, T. (2014). The impact of gender quotas on gender equality in sport governance. Journal of Sport Management, 28, 485-597.

Claringbould, I. & Knoppers, A. (2012). Paradoxical practices of gender in sport-related organizations. Journal of Sport Management, 26, 404-416.

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