Students weren’t the only recipients of final grades over the past few weeks. Several colleges got them, too, including the University of Minnesota, and some were likely happier than others. The U’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport has released its annual Women in College Coaching Report Card to document progress, or lack thereof, in hiring female coaches in seven NCAA Division I conferences. This summer, Tucker, which began collecting the data in 2012, launches the “Plus One Challenge” to increase the percentage of women head coaches over the next five years from 42% to 50%. Tucker’s director, Nicole M. LaVoi, a former college coach and tennis player, shares her vision for equity.
Q: Please tell us more about the Plus One Challenge.
A: The idea behind Plus One is to hold decisionmakers accountable for their hiring practices. Any athletic director can hire one woman to replace a male head coach over a five-year time frame. That is a small, practical, tactical and doable goal. I wanted to make it easy to set up ADs for success.
Q: The percentage of women head coaches in seven select NCAA Division I conferences ticked up for the sixth year in a row and is now close to 42%. Yea! But …
A: But the majority of hires still are men. I’m glad the data is trending upward. That provides us with hope that we are moving the needle, but the progress is really slow.
Q: Why is change slow?
A: Gender bias and sexism are alive and well. Who we think of as a coach typically, and what a coach does or how a coach behaves, is associated with men and masculine behaviors. I bristle at the notion that coaching males is the pinnacle of one’s career and means a coach has made it. There are many women, [Minnesota Lynx coach] Cheryl Reeve included, who would be great at coaching men but they don’t want to and do not see it as a move up.
Q: The University of Minnesota got a B grade this year, which proves that we’re above average. What is the U doing well, and what work is still needed?
A: Minnesota has a long tradition of gender equity in athletics, which is reflected in our B grade. We like to joke that Minnesota gets a B+. With one more female hire, we will likely get an A. This is unlikely to happen any time soon, though, because the male head coaches of women’s teams at Minnesota are very good coaches and very good people.
Q: Conversely, 10 schools got Fs. Why are they failing and how should they respond?
A: They get a failing grade because they fail to hire women to fill vacant head coaching positions. Over seven years, most schools have had many opportunities to hire a woman into head coaching positions. With the F schools, three times out of four they hire a man. I’ve had a couple calls over the years from F schools who wanted to argue about their grade, but the data tells the story and we just report it.
Q: Are they committed to change?
A: I don’t know if they have a commitment to being better or not, but I can tell you that the A and B schools do, because I’ve interviewed their athletic directors. The quickest way to improve one’s grade is to hire a woman into a position vacated by a man.
Q: Why is it important to see more female coaches? What do they bring to the game and the players?
A: Women coaches challenge gender stereotypes and offer diverse perspectives. They help to attract and retain diverse talent. There’s less risk that athletes will be sexually abused or harassed. The bottom line is that female athletes need role models. Female coaches are proof that this is a viable career pathway.
Q: What does a supportive climate look like for a female coach?
A: It’s where she feels valued, is given resources to run a successful program and grow professionally, and is given autonomy to run her program like she wants to without reprisal. And she has an athletic director who has her back.
Q: How do you respond to people who say women can’t coach men?
A: I tell them they are just wrong. Women can and do coach men; they just are not given the opportunity to do so when they choose to pursue that pathway. Athletes want a coach who cares about them, helps them develop and increases the likelihood of winning. Women can do that just as well as men. Men and boys who have competent women coaches are our biggest advocates and allies as they know women can coach.
Q: What about those who say, just give it time, be patient?
A: We have given it time — nearly 50 years since the passage of Title IX and, in fact, it hasn’t improved. It has declined and become stagnant in terms of the percentage of women coaching women and girls. If time worked and women would just catch up, we’d have gender equity by now. Time isn’t going to get it done. Policy and action will.
Q: How can we rooting from the stands help you reach your goal?
A: We need alumni, stakeholders and parents to hold decisionmakers accountable and demand that young women be coached by women, because same-sex role models matter. The more awareness we raise about why women coaches matter and how everyone has a part in changing the system and making the occupational landscape better for women, the more the tide will turn.