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This Girl Can: why are women less involved in sport?

Friday 04-12-2015 - 00:00

It's This Girl Can Week here at Bristol SU. This Girl Can is a campaign that focusses on getting more women more active. Sport and Student Development Officer Steph Harris looks at how we can get women more involved in sport.

Girls, let's talk about the S word. Sport.

First, the facts:

  • Only 31% of women are active at least once a week in the UK compared to 41% of men.
  • 7% of all sports media coverage in the UK is about Women's sport.
  • Women’s Sport accounts for 2% of national newspaper sports coverage.
  • Between September 2011 and December 2013, women’s sport received just 0.4% of reported UK sponsorship deals in sport.
  • Overall female representation in Sport’s Governing Bodies boardrooms has finally reached an average of 30%.
  • There are 10 female Chief Executives and 10 female Chairs in sport’s boardrooms  Just 11 performance directors are female.

Faced with these figures it’s hard to know where to start. Let's go for mass participation and discuss female activity levels. The headline figure above states that 10% less of the female population of the UK is physically active than the male, and this just refers to physical activity. According to a recent Women in Sport report “Gym-based fitness still claims the lion’s share of women’s participation. A class based gym session feels more accessible and relevant to women than playing netball or hockey.”

But why? What dissuades women from participating in sport? According to the same report the answer is… complex. There are a multitude of barriers that may put women off: lack of time, fear of judgement, the view that it is aggressive, competitive and not for them. There's no one clear reason and certainly not one that's the same for all women. According to the Women in Sport research, women of all ages are driven by a complex value system. Every woman’s dominant value depends upon the individual and their current circumstance. Key values were identified as looking good, feeling good, achieving goals, developing skills, nurturing friends and family and having fun. With female participation in physical activity on the rise, the gym and fitness class based system has clearly recognised and capitalised on these values: a quick search of #fitfam or #yoga on instagram will show you that. As yet though, sport has failed to do the same.

Since 2009 there has been an annual survey of sport’s national governing bodies (NGB’s) to investigate the number of women on their boards. There's been a general upward trend, this value now stands at 30%. Not too shabby you might think (what's 40% between friends) but these numbers hide a few worrying traits. Firstly many of the female CEOs interviewed still reported finding the sector challenging to work and lead in as a women. They frequently found themselves to be the only women in the room or experiencing the attitude that men should be promoted onto the board because “they had served their time” at lower levels rather than because of their skills. Another worrying statistic is that although the number of women working as development directors within NGBs has increased the number of female performance directors has remained static suggesting that women are being promoted in the softer, participation focussed work but not the elite performance side which remains heavily male dominated.

With campaigns like This Girl Can receiving such prominence there's no doubt women see physical activity as increasingly important in their lives, but if we want sport to prosper in the same way it needs to do more to start appealing to women. For me,- sport isn’t about keeping fit or becoming physically stronger, it’s about developing a close sense of belonging with a group of diverse people united by a common love, about challenging yourself in that group of people you trust and applying the self-confidence you develop from trying and failing to your everyday life. How do we go about delivering this change? Well, balanced leadership at the top would be a good place to start. It’s time to start kicking and throwing some balls at that glass ceiling.


Equality and diversity, Events, Sports and societies

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Bristol, sport, student, this girl can, women,

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