Women are under-represented on the boards of more than 80 percent of New Zealand’s sports organisations, according to new Massey University data.

The research into 65 of the country’s national and regional sports organisations also found females were outnumbered in management or leadership roles in more than 60 per cent of cases.

The research, conducted in November, is the most up-to-date of its kind – but adds to statistics about the gender divide in boardrooms and management positions across all industries.

Outside of sport, women only make up 20 per cent of senior management and 17 per cent of the boards of New Zealand’s listed companies.

A new initiative by Massey University’s Academic Dean professor Sarah Leberman, aims to even the playing field for New Zealand women on the sports pitch and in the boardroom.

Women in Sport Aotearoa is a new platform to close the divide between male and female athletes and those running the sports industry.

Leberman said she was also fuelled by the disparity in sports organisations in New Zealand, where women are vastly under-represented on the board and leadership positions.

“Women in Sport Aotearoa is to provide a platform for girls and women to be visible, valued and influential in sport.

“Why we set it up is because women make up 50 percent of our population, or actually just over 50 per cent of the population, yet if you looked at the media every day you would think they didn’t participate in sport.

“But also if we look at our national sports organisations, and we look at our other sports organisations, we have very few women who are either the CEOs of those organisation or even on boards of national sports organisations.

“And when women are not in positions of leadership in terms of a CEO or in terms of being able to effect strategy then that affects the opportunities that are available for girls and women in sports so we would like to redress that.”

In November, Leberman surveyed 47 sports organisations and 18 regional sports trusts in New Zealand. Of those, only 18 percent had 50 percent or more women on boards and 37 percent had 50 percent or more women in leadership or management roles.

This study was one of the first of its kind, and the lack of such information is itself a problem, she said.

“The other big issue is that we have a lack of data that focusses specifically on girls and women in sport and we would like to provide that research so that we can make evidence-based decisions in what is good for women and girls in sport within New Zealand.”

The platform is also rooted in international research which shows women and girls who play sport are more likely to reach leadership positions in their chosen careers.

Ernst and Young research of 400 women in leadership roles corporate jobs in North America, found that the vast majority had played sport, either at a recreational or elite level.

Massey University’s Dean Academic Professor Sarah Leberman. Photo: Supplied

“The … EY research focused specifically on women in the c-suite, so they are up in the corporate sector, and what they have found from the 400 women that they had as part of their research is that nearly all of them had participated in some sport to some degree or another.

“The key things were that women who participated in sport, they knew how to work as a team, they knew how to get the best out of a team, they also knew how to deal with challenges that came with sport. You win, you lose and how do you pick yourself up and carry on.

“They knew about how to achieve tasks and be goal focused and overall it provided them with a really good platform for being in the business world.

“So in New Zealand what we are interested on is replicating that research to see whether we have the same findings.”

Although New Zealand does not have the same college sports scholarship schemes as the US, Leberman believed that the results of local research would be similar.

“We believe that the value of sport for girls and women will have the same outcomes in New Zealand and in other international contexts.”

Katie Glynn retired from international hockey in 2015 with 130-plus caps for the Black Sticks.

She is now a sports manager at Auckland Diocesan School for Girls where she also coaches hockey.

The transition from playing to working was tough, she said.

“The biggest barrier was my career ended prematurely, I had little bits of work experience along the way but not huge amounts so when you’re looking for job roles they like to see experience.

“I guess it’s being able to transfer the schools you’ve learnt from sport into a business context.”

Women in Sport Aotearoa would help to bridge those gaps, she said. The platform would allow women to find mentors and network.

“I guess it is quite hard … to find those opportunities and also just being able to show what qualities I do have, so I see that as a platform of them being able to maybe provide me with different opportunities but also help me up-skill in my current area.

“I think it’s a great start and something that’s definitely needed.”

Helping women into sports leadership roles would have a flow-on effect for younger generations, too.

Like the students she coached, said Glynn.

“It is really inspirational for girls to see leaders in those roles as something they can aspire to, and we do lack a lot of that.

“From a younger girl’s point of view, what do they have to look up to and aspire to? If we don’t get females into those positions not a lot will change.”

Glynn had seen first-hand the benefits of playing sports on women’s careers, including her own.

“The skills are really transferrable,” she said.

“Whether your goal is to become an elite athlete or maybe even some other profession, the things you learn being in a team environment are really important.

“Team work, there is obviously leadership roles like captain, leadership groups, time management, commitment.

“A big one for us is resilience, these girls, they come together and they really want to achieve their goals and if they don’t they have a bit of a setback and have to fight back harder … that is a really important lesson that you can transfer later in life.”

So what is it holding Kiwi women back?

Leberman said women don’t feel as empowered as men to put themselves forward, and were also up against a system built and run by men.

“The research from overseas suggests that you need at least 40 percent of a board that are women and that equates to about three women on a board to be able to make some change.

“In business, in universities, in sport – those structures are not serving well the needs of women, even the career paths of women which are generally not linear. Most women if they choose to have a family will take time out and then that interrupts their career path in terms of looking at how they have been successful and being able to be promoted.”

Research suggested that women only apply for roles for which they believe they have 100 percent of the skill set, whereas men would apply for roles thinking they only have about 60 per cent.

Leberman’s previous research has revealed that female sports management students in New Zealand were earning 17 percent less than their male counterparts just one year into their jobs.

She says there are three key things to do to fix these disparities.

“I think the three things are breaking down institutional practices, so organisations looking at what their policies are, how they are organised, how they enable women, for example to return to the workplace after having children, how can they make that easy, how can they value the skill sets they bring as parents to the workplace.

“I think gender bias, running unconscious bias trainings, really bringing to the forefront what the issues are around gender bias and making explicit the statistics so it is really clear, how is our organisation faring in term of women in leadership positions.

“Thirdly, recognising this issue of intersectionality, not putting all women in the same category – women are different just like men are different depending on their different identities they bring to the workplace.”

Miranda Burton is chief executive of Global Women, a network of New Zealand leaders which has been lobbying for mandatory inclusion of women in corporate leadership roles.

The group wants to see women make up 30 percent of the country’s listed companies’ boards by 2020.

Chief executive of Global Women Miranda Burton. Photo: Supplied

“Sport is one of life’s great teachers. By engaging more girls in sport and encouraging their continued participation, the foundations are being laid for ongoing leadership in life.

“Women in Sport Aotearoa will raise the profile of women who are already participating and leading our sporting organisations in New Zealand; some of this country’s most valued community and cultural institutions.”

The more women seen achieving in leadership positions, the more would be encouraged to do the same, she said.

“Having strong and capable female role models across all sectors of society and career endeavours encourages and inspires the next generation of female leaders to strive towards their own goals and aspirations.”

“There are still significant barriers to the advancement of women, that limits the potential that gender diversity can bring to New Zealand organisations.

“The impact is that New Zealand businesses are not currently taking full advantage of the wider skills and knowledge available from a broader range of people in senior leadership roles.

“At Global Women we believe diversity and inclusion is indispensable. It unleashes wider talent pools, diverse thinking, greater innovation, better decision-making and ultimately better returns for shareholders.

“Capturing the value from these advantages will become incrementally more important as New Zealand’s marketplace globalises.”

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