Achieving Gender Equity in High Performance Athletics Coaching in the U.K
As part of our research project, we gathered insight from a sample of high performance female coaches, GB level athletes and home country NGB representatives.
It is intended that this evidence will form the basis of specific and practical key recommendations towards shifting thinking and approaches to gender diversity and inclusion across the U.K.
There were a number of key findings that connected across the different groups of interviewees. Overall, the research represented an excellent forum to listen to and represent the coaches’ and athletes’ stories.
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The coaches represented a motivated, engaged, and valuable part of the UK athletics coaching workforce and are deeply committed to their role and to their relationships with their athletes. Nevertheless, there are a number of significant cultural and systemic issues that must be urgently addressed by NGBs.
The coaches described working in a culture in which they are and feel minoritised. It is a culture that is underpinned by unequal gendered assumptions and in which power is retained by a few rather than the many.
This is in part due to a lack of professionalisation within athletics coaching. Without a professionalised and regulated system, it is open to abuse in two particular ways: the poaching of athletes, and unregulated appointment processes and networks that lead to the exclusion and powerlessness of women.
The existing coaching culture (which is primarily performance driven and metrics-based) and broader systemic issues in the sport, along with the minoritised status of most women coaches, have an emotional and relational cost for such individuals and greatly impacts their relationships with male peers in the system.
The athletes too shared this view – that the lack of professionalisation of coaches, and the invisibility and marginalisation of a diverse coaching workforce impacts their wellbeing, development, and performance.
Through these experiences, both the coaches and athletes feel that issues of diversity and inclusion are considered ‘tick-box’ measures within their NGBs but run deeper than this.
The organisations themselves are somewhat aware of these issues; they are not wholly gender-blind and they express a readiness to change. But the lack of inclusion is not always seen or noticed, even less understood. NGBs are open to change but there is work to be done to move to a stance of action or reform.
NGBs also recognise that what they have done so far has not had the intended impact. Gender equity is still conceived in representation or access terms: a lack of women in terms of numbers and the issue is that women need development or the opportunities to coach.
There is little evidence of an understanding of what it feels to be in the minority: the powerlessness, the invisibility, the exclusion, the lack of physical and psychological safety that would come from coaching in such an exclusive culture.
There is little recognition too of the value and capability of women coaches within the existing system. In this way, there is a significant disconnect between what the NGBs think coaches need and what is the ‘problem’, to what the coaches experience.
In summary, a performance-narrative and metrics-based culture is largely driving organisations and thus, undermining diversity and inclusion approaches.
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