Research from Women in Sport has found 40% of women in the sports industry say they face discrimination because of their sex but 72% of their male colleagues say they see no inequality.
The survey was carried out over a seven-month period, canvassing 1,152 people across roles in sports administration at national governing bodies, leisure organisations, county sport partnerships and sports charities.
Ruth Holdaway, the chief executive of Women in Sport, has described the findings, which included 30% of women saying they had experienced inappropriate behaviour from men, as hugely significant.
“What really concerned me was the overarching 40% of women having experienced discrimination – that is a problem we have to solve urgently,” Holdaway said.
The survey also highlighted problems such as the gender pay gap, feeling undervalued at work, a lack of opportunities for women to progress into more senior roles and a networking culture that supports jobs for the boys.
“None of us want to work in a sector where that is the case,” Holdaway said. “How will we attract women into our sector if 40% feel they’re held back by being female? We’d never been able to quantify that before.
“We’ve shown there is an issue here. Women are experiencing something different from men and it’s preventing them from progressing. Now we can start to build consensus around making that change.”
Including a male perspective was essential to bringing about change, according to Holdaway. “It’s the first time we’ve chosen to talk to men and women in the industry, so we’ve got interesting data about men’s perceptions about gender and the gender gap and how that’s different to how women perceive it.
“That tells a lot about why the problems exist. If men are in the leadership roles and can’t perceive the problems then they can’t fix them.”
Women in Sport’s influential Trophy Women research helped to bring about targets for women on sports boards in 2012. In April this year Manchester United announced Collette Roche, formerly the executive director of the Manchester Airports Group, as its first female chief operating officer in, while the Football Association has added two non-executive directors in the lawyer Rupinder Bains – the first Asian representative at the top table – and the Buildbase chief executive, Kate Tinsley.
The research, titled Beyond 30% – Workplace Culture in Sport, provides a new focus. “We’ve now got mandated targets of 30% women on boards for all sports organisations,” Holdaway said. “To be compliant with sports governance code and be able to access public funding all organisations will have to have 30% women on boards. That’s step one. But we’ve always known that is never going to be the solution.
“We want women all the way through the organisations. What’s significant about this report is this the first time anyone has looked at the barriers impacting women from top to bottom.”