Research Findings: Undervalued and Exploited within the System

Findings: Achieving Gender Equity in High Performance Athletics Coaching in the U.K.

The impact of the cultural and systemic issues have also impacted on the value ascribed to women by their governing bodies. There were a few examples of the coaches feeling valued by the NGBs in terms of their one-to-one exchanges with NGB staff:

I feel valued, I feel I am recognised, they will say nice words to me, they will help me if I ask. I asked about mentor and I suggested somebody, and they did all the introductions and got that set up for me…So if I ask, yeah. I do feel valued and I like the people. There is nobody there I dislike or don’t trust. I think there is a good bunch of people at [my NGB]. (Charlotte)

I feel valued because I have been given opportunities to further my coaching career I suppose, if you can call it a career. One being asked to be part of the support staff for various teams by GB and England. So, I definitely feel that shows they value what I am offering. (Deborah)

Interviewer: do you feel valued by your governing body as a coach?
Respondent: Erm, yeah I think so, on the whole. And again my experience has generally been very positive. (Margaret

But then many of the same coaches provided contradictory evidence of feeling undervalued as women:
I think automatically males get more respect in our sport. (Margaret
I do feel successful as a coach, not that anyone particularly values my sort of success (CharlotteThe British System at the moment doesn’t make you feel as if you are important enough. (Emma)

But I think you know, it’s hard when you walk into a space, or a conference and you are the minority, whatever that minority is. The minority was female, and I think particularly if you are younger and female too, there is a tendency for people not to take you seriously. (Grace)

Some of the coaches reported feeling undervalued and exploited or used by their governing body. And that this was gendered on many occasions. While the value of coaches is understood, it is not always demonstrated by NGBs:

There’s very little credibility given to female coaches by the men, not just in the establishment. I think [the NGB doesn’t] know very much about anything when it comes down to it. I think it’s not the top level, I think it’s about two layers down that actually call the shots when it comes to coaching and things like that, and I think that that two layers down doesn’t give the credibility to women, I think they feel it’s a male dominated thing, and it’s gonna carry on like that. (Clara)

You don’t always feel like the governing body has your back. And is prepared to fight for your rights as a coach. (Victoria)

Interviewer: Do you feel valued by your governing body as a coach?

Respondent: Erm…No! [Laughter] No. I think they use me for their convenience… I think they know my value, but they don’t respect my value. (Emma)

None of the coaches as a matter of fact, none, not female or male coaches are valued by the governing body. I don’t think anyone isif I turn round tomorrow and say “I don’t want to coach anymore.”, no one will stop me. No one would ask me to continue. (Sophie)

Do you feel valued by your governing body as coach?
Respondent: [Laughter] No! Definitely not! I don’t want them to sing and dance, I don’t want to be in the public domain, but just a ‘well done’. (Georgina

In the very early days I felt really undervalued…But, you know, it’s as if there are so many more other people with the same level of skills that they didn’t need me, that my knowledge and experience was of no value to them, whatsoever. Well I don’t know, maybe my knowledge and experience isn’t very valuable but I think it is, because I have worked [number of] years to get to where I am. And the level of success with my athletes why wouldn’t you want to pick my brains? I felt very undervalued, I still do, but I care less about it now. (Lisa)

I think we’re undervalued, I think that’s what it is. When it comes to a position of a little bit of power and all that “Aren’t I good, I’ve produced this wonderful [name of event]”, I think it all comes down to power at the end of the day. I don’t think that to be honest that the national governing bodies have done themselves any favours at all. They seem to be so top heavy…The fact is that I’ve been bypassed many times. (Amanda)

I would say instantly yes [that I am valued], but I just don’t know what level I am expecting is good. They never asked me to do anything, so that makes me think I am undervalued. (Charlotte)

For one participant, she went further to make the observation that it is difficult to value something that cannot be seen. This is a further consequence of women’s minority: it is detracting from their value, if they ascribed value at all:

I don’t think [the NGB are] really aware that I exist so, I don’t know that you can have value to something that you don’t know you’ve got. (Clara)

The theme of invisibility was present in many of the women’s stories. This invisibility was conceptualised as a lack of forum or of channels to speak to the NGB, a lack of recognition of their abilities for further coaching opportunities, few invitations to either attend or present at coaching conferences. This invisibility, particularly at such public forums, must be addressed as to elevate women’s position in the organisations and reform what is understood to make high-performance coaching and coaches (to redefine coaching). This invisibility for some coaches is an issue that is progressively worsening within some of the NGBs:

Probably for the first [few years] I was a nobody, nobody took any notice of you as a female coach. You just didn’t come into anybody’s existence, anybody’s thoughts. If a man complains, it’s listened to, if a woman complains, it’s just a complaint, she is moaning. It’s the preconception of what that means. I could say ‘the atmosphere is toxic’. [A male coach] could say the same thing and they will listen. [Exasperated] You know, when is it going to end? Up until about 10 years ago, we didn’t think about being a female coach because nobody acknowledged you anyway. Unless you were an elite coach and you had elite athletes, nobody took any bit of blind notice. And then it got better, but now it’s got worse. It got much, much worse. In the last 5 or 6 years. It’s gone back worse than it was originally. (Georgina)

But as a whole body, you know, I would say that most of them don’t know of me, they don’t know I exist, so how can I be valued? (Olivia)

But I don’t think it’s always easy. I had been coaching at a club set up for about 15 years before anybody acknowledged you even existed, I had athletes that were progressing! So, the only acknowledgement of whether you were doing anything right or good was the fact the athletes stayed with me and seemed to be getting better…So that was my only measure of success. (CF)

Interviewer: Do you feel valued by your governing body?

Respondent: No, because I can tell you [the NGB staff] look straight through meat the minute, because I am of no use to her, [one member of NGB staff] will just look straight through me. And, she went to [one event with metoo and sat on the other side of the room! (Mel)

Many women’s invisibility results in a failure to ask them to attend or speak at athletics coaching events even though many are confident and experienced educators. If some are asked to present, they are not always rewarded for doing so in the form of payment:

Whilst I have delivered I have often done it because I have been coordinating, or organising, or I have had a particular role. When I have not had a particular roles, I am slightly surprised that nobody has come to me and asked if I would like to present at this…I’ve got a teaching background, I am a tutor, so it’s not as though I can’t present. I think my presentation skills are good and competent, so yeah. I’m not itching to do them, but it is just interesting that you don’t get asked and quite often you see other people on the list and you wonder why they have been asked again! (Grace)

I’ve never presented at any conferences, what’s that about, how have I never done that? I haven’t been asked, and I presented a million times through research conferences, I presented my work, within focus groups, dealing with everything…it’s just with this, it’s never happened. I don’t know the route to that, I’ve no idea, I don’t know how that would happen. (Charlotte)

I have done workshops for [the NGB]. They always want you to do workshops and speak to the conference, the problem is they don’t pay. And it’s a day away from coaching, there was a year where I did four workshops around the country, and it took so much out of me, the athletes didn’t perform as well. So, I backed off from it a little bit (Sophie)

Through their minority status, women coaches can become ‘tokens’. Coupled with approaches to diversity and inclusion (to be discussed in section 3.0) that are occupied with numbers of women (representation), the result can be that women feel like a tick-box measure. This is evidence of the need to go beyond current thinking and approaches to diversity and inclusion and address wider culture and systemic issues. Many coaches are feeling the impact of an incomplete, superficial, and misdirected approach to improving gender equity. The phrase ‘tick box’ was a common response by many of the women interviewed:

I’m not a big fan of female coaches getting positions because you have to tick a box or you have to be seen to have more gender equality. I am very much that the best coach should get that job. (Lisa)

Right, what it should mean is that I am a coach, I don’t want to be known as a female coach. I’m a coach end of story. I want to gain things by my ability. I don’t want to be given it because I am a woman. What does it mean…it means that there are tick boxes to be taken. And it is usually the tick box is young women. (Georgina)

I would say that in terms of high-performance coaching, being a female has helped me get places. I’m not stupid, I know you are ticking a box asking someone like myself to be part of the team staff, because you’ve asked a female coach to do something that would normally just be male coaches, so you know, I appreciate that that is probably the case. That is part of it, but I don’t think it is all of it because I think I’m a good coach! It probably helped that I was a female [laughter], that I got asked to do it, they probably needed some [women]! (Deborah)

[The NGB] are looking for [minority groups] because they [are] needed to fill their quotas, I have managed to get in that way…we are all good at our jobs, however, it helps them to fill their quotas. It’s an easy get out for them, because we are [in the minority]. (Emma)

The most recent thing that jarred with me was being involved in the selection set up, and again I have been very fortunate to get these opportunities. And I am mindful that there will be male coaches out there that probably feel that they would have liked those opportunities and haven’t because organisations are keen to get more women involved, because there haven’t been enough. (Grace)

These quotes demonstrate that these coaches are aware of, and sensitive to, current organisational approaches to diversity and inclusion (D&I) that is seen through a representational (i.e. numbers) or ‘equal opportunities’ lens. More evidence of this is included in section 3.0.