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.
To find out more about the aim and process of this research project, please click here
- It is recognised that UK Athletics and the associated home countries are in a period of change. Coupled with the broader and turbulent times (the global health crisis, economic upheaval, the need for inclusive workplaces, digital and technological transformations), now is the right time to address organisational culture. The voices of the athletes and coaches within the research were unanimous too in wanting to see change. But organisations cannot force change merely through technical or strategic approaches (The Centre for Creative Leadership, 2020). The evidence from the research demonstrates that organisational culture is what will determine the level of organisational success. The stories of the coaches and athletes also evidence that work needs to be done to ‘unlearn’ some of the current culture, which is metrics-based and performance-driven, in order to transform. Any strategising by UK Athletics and home country NGBs must consider culture, reward systems, and people, and prioritise equity in the organisation. Any diversity and inclusion strategy must be a central part of organisational strategy rather than an isolated component and one that prioritises care and safety.
- There is a level of awareness within the NGBs as to the current representation within their coaching workforces. Now is the time to move from awareness however, to action. Ensuring fair treatment, representing all identities and differences, and building a culture of belonging are actions are expected by coaches, athletes, participants, and future coaches and athletes too. By not embracing a brand that is synonymous with diversity and inclusion, UK Athletics and the home country NGBs are weakening their ability to attract, retain, and nurture high-potential individuals. For existing coaches and athletes already in the system, the research has shown that this is also coming at a cost to their own wellbeing and sense of belonging in the sport.
- To move away from just an awareness of inequity, to a state of action, organisations must go beyond just recognising biases in the workplace. The NGB representatives demonstrated a degree of willingness to address issues of diversity and inclusion but often did not have the tools or resources to do so. To replace the biases and gendered assumptions within the organisation, tools and actions must be given to people in order to create cultures and teams that are truly equitable, diverse, and inclusive (The Centre for Creative Leadership, 2020).
- One opportunity for change is to acknowledge and celebrate difference in the organisation. This could form the basis of a bold new rebranding exercise through a new marketing strategy. This would help to combat the invisibility of different social groups (such as different groups of women, differing (dis)abilities) within the sport, raise the profile of different individuals across the organisation, and contribute towards redefining who is considered the ‘norm’ when it comes to coaches and leaders.
- The coaches interviewed in the research represent an invaluable resource to UK Athletics and the respective home countries. They are highly motivated, driven, and engaged members of staff. Accessing the full potential of this talent should be a strategic imperative. This research is a crucial first step in identifying the ways in which inequity is experienced by coaches and athletes. Now, the priority should be to set goals, remove barriers, and change practices so that all coaches have a fair chance to the best coach they can be, whoever they are.
- Many of the coaches and athletes’ stories highlighted the problems associated with having an unprofessionalised coaching system. Work is needed towards professionalising coaching (such as renumeration, creating professional associations for coaches, creating a formal pathway and system for selection and progression, creating a formalised system for coach education etc). This would support existing coaches, in particular women, and in turn, their athletes. It would also serve to create a sense of community and collaboration between coaches rather than a competitive and ‘territorial’ culture whereby coaches work in silo. Creating a profession of coaching would also serve to attract future talent by raising the credibility and worth of what it means to be an athletics coach in the UK.
- While it is important to be an athlete-centred organisation, there is a risk that this overshadows the needs and welfare of coaches. Coaches are instrumental to the athletics system and to athlete development. By taking care of our coaches, we are also putting our athletes first. Rather than just a single athlete-centred philosophy, we must take a dual-approach of also being coach-centred. Coaches are not simply vehicles for athlete performance and success. They require similar care and investment, with equal importance placed on their welfare. A change in performance narrative is required by reframing our approach to athlete and coach care, and ultimately, success.
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