Women in Sports Leadership: A facade or a work in progress?

By Rachel Ankomah

In recent times, participation of women and girls have increased compared to some years back. But despite the increased participation, women and girls are still underrepresented relative to their involvement in sports.

According to Forbes, only 41% of female college teams are actually coached by women and 28% of youth coaches tend to be women. This shows that there's the need to be more intentional about creating more women leaders in sports. One may ask, what's the reason for a lower number of women in leadership and why should we increase it?

Humans since time immemorial have recognised men as a leader or father figure. Men are seen as the head of the family, the one who is supposed to be in charge at all times.

Men are required by society to lead and to be the sole decision maker.

These societal beliefs have had a great effect on women who want to take up leadership roles. Such women are tagged as being arrogant or proud. This actually prevents so many women from taking up these roles in order to avoid the name callings and tags. Few are bold enough to still go for it but in the end, their projects and works are sometimes sabotaged by some men in higher levels. Their projects are either shut down with or without reasons and they aren't allowed to make certain decisions although it may be in their jurisdiction.

Some women are also discouraged and receive little to no support from their colleagues simply because she is a woman, and others shunned by society because they are seen as "rebels" going against the norms of the society; that a man is supposed to be the leader.

Some organizations tend to paint a bright picture of their support for women in Leadership but in reality it's the men who make the decisions. The women are just the faces for the roles. Most importantly, the misconception that a woman's place is in the kitchen therefore they have no place in the sports world, to the extent of even attaining leadership roles have killed the dreams of so many women who had the qualities and skills essential to lead.

📸: Female vs Male leadership

All these factors are a few of many that's been a hindrance to the increase of women in sports Leadership roles. For instance with Rugby League in Africa, there are about 9 Federations and only one (Morocco) has a woman as the president. Majority of coaches/referees are men with just a few being women. Most of the clubs have more men in decision making roles with few to zero women.

There's been a conscious effort by the International Rugby League to increase the number of women in leadership roles and by setting up the IRL Women and Girls Advisory Group. I believe they are on a great path but that may not be enough. We must put an end to the stereotyping of women, issues of discrimination and the gendered organizational cultures.


Seeing more qualified women in Leadership roles serves as a motivator for female athletes which results in positive outcomes in terms of their health, education, and even positioning in the workforce. Also female leaders have been described as more transformational than male leaders. They serve as role models for their subordinates, team, and sometimes colleagues. It has been debated that female leaders spend more time trying to understand their team, learning what inspires and motivates each member to ensure higher productivity and employee satisfaction and retention. Women leaders prioritise teamwork and authentic communication as a key to success.

Due to their competitive nature, women leaders are willing and ready to go the extra mile, make sacrifice to ensure their team succeeds and achieves their goals. They persevere through obstacles, they make tough strategic decisions, and most care about more than the payday at the end of the month. Great qualities of a good leader.

📸: Female leadership

There's an urgent need to increase the number of women leaders and this we can do by practicing the following and more.

Support and promote gender equality

The gender of person should not be the sole focus in relation to a position, payment/salary, projects etc. If a woman is more qualified for the position, hire her. Women shouldn't be subjected to lesser salaries compared to men with the same position.

Challenge societal norms and stereotypes

Anyone can lead a group or a team providing they are qualified, have the skills and knowledge and are willing to learn, grow/develop. We need to challenge the belief that sports and leadership roles are a man's thing and women have no place. Give women the opportunity to showcase their skills and knowledge.

Supporting projects/events of women in sports

Colleagues of women leaders should lend a helping hand when it comes to her projects or events. Any little support will go a long way to make their projects successful hence giving them the confidence to do better and more. Media coverage of women sports is also a great form of support as this will show upcoming female athletes the opportunities that's in store for them and also create more awareness on women sports.

Let's encourage more women to take up Leadership roles as this will serve as a great inspiration for the female youth and encourage them to work harder.

- Rachel Ankomah

Thanks for reading 💚

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