In an unofficial report conducted by the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) on Jan. 25, 2013, which looked at staff directories from all 54 universities included under the CIS roster, out of 480 head coaches, 408 of them were male.
While most people would say that the dramatic numbers speak for themselves, and that the issue of gender inequality at university-level coaching positions is black and white, not everyone feels the same way.
“I would not agree with the statement that there is gender inequality in coaching positions at the CIS level,” said Tom Huisman, CIS Director of Operations and Development. “That might be equivalent to saying there is gender inequality in elementary school teacher positions. It might be a bit misleading of a statement.”
However, statistics don’t lie, and the disparities become even more glaring when examining male teams with female coaches. According to the same report, out of the 72 coaching positions held by women in CIS, there are only two female head coaches of men’s sports teams. Still, people are skeptical.
“I don’t know if I can qualify it as an issue,” said Michel Belanger, CIS Manager, Communications and Media Relations. “However, looking at numbers, it’s hard to argue that there is, indeed, an inequality between the number of male and female head coaches in CIS.”
With just 15 per cent of head coaching positions currently held by females in the CIS, there have been many hypotheses as to why the statistics are so low. One common idea is that female candidates are simply not as qualified to coach at university as men are.
“Do women have an equal opportunity to those coaching positions? I believe the answer is yes,” said Huisman. “Are there equal numbers of qualified female candidates applying for CIS coaching positions as men? I believe the answer is no.”
Although there are no rules that discourage women from applying for university coaching positions, Larena Hoeber, a Kinesiology Professor at the University of Regina, believes that there are a variety of reasons for the deflated presence of female coaches in universities.
“Part of it is about gender ideas about leadership,” Hoeber said. “Part of it is assumptions about who is more qualified and recognizing the assumption that, although I don’t necessarily agree with this, but the assumption that men would have more opportunities to be involved in sport, and be more knowledgeable technically.”
When the University of Regina’s men’s hockey team was hiring a new head coach last spring, out of 36 applicants, zero females applied.
Even if a female were to have applied for the position, while theoretically she would have been considered for the position, the odds of her actually securing that job are unfortunately slim.
“In reality, there is no female that I know that is working at a high enough level to get that position,” said Dick White, Athletics Director at the U of R, and member of the coaching search committee for men’s hockey.
Anytime a university decides to select a female to be the head coach of a men’s team – a situation that is considered a “tough decision” – both the school, and the new coach have to be prepared for backlash, something that Hoeber believes may keep women from even applying for coaching positions in the first place.
“I think that in some cases, I don’t know how many women feel like putting their name in the hat for that,” she said. “So, not to say that they’re not interested in coaching, but I think there is a self-selection going on beforehand to say, ‘it’s not worth it,’ or ‘I won’t get it.’”
Not only do knowledge, experience, and self-doubt play a role in the coaching selection process, but Hoeber also says gender roles may also be a determining factor during hiring.
“Clearly, there is also an issue about the domestic responsibilities and how it is very difficult if you are female and taking on a leadership role like that, that if you do have kids – and not everyone does – when you coach, the practices often conflict with that,” she said. “Men, for the most part, I don’t want to paint an entire brush with that, but they have someone, usually, who takes care of the kids so they don’t have to make that tough choice.”
“I would not agree with the statement that there is gender inequality in coaching positions at the CIS level. That might be equivalent to saying there is gender inequality in elementary school teacher positions. It might be a bit misleading of a statement.” – Tom Huisman
Huisman, who has been admittedly critical about the suggested issue of gender inequality, has his own ideas on what distinguishes male and female applicants during the hiring process.
“Rather than view the issue strictly on the basis of the current coaching demographic, which would be a fairly narrow view, one must also look at the pool of candidates available,” he said. “Much work and research on this has been conducted by groups like the Coaching Association of Canada, including the demands and requirements of being a professional coach, which can explain some of the disparity in the number of female coaches relative to male coaches.”
While no one seems to agree on the specific cause for such drastic disparity between male and female coaches, it should come as no surprise that everyone has different ideas when it comes to a solution to both attract and recruit more females to university coaching positions.
But for White, the solution begins with increasing female qualifications.
“It starts in the developmental process, not at the highest level,” said White, who served as the CIS President from 2007-09. “One of our biggest problems that we have at the CIS level, and I have experienced it [at the U of R] as well, is that if we post a position for a women’s team, we don’t get anywhere near enough qualified female applicants.”
White believes that one solution may be to place a greater emphasis on developing females at the assistant coach position, so that they gain valuable experience and eventually compete with men who apply for the same positions.
“Our female athletes have made it very clear to us that they want us to hire the best and most qualified coach available, male or female,” White continued. “We have had many good women’s coaches, but there is really a lacking of qualified applicants, as far as experience when it comes to hiring for a women’s team, we need to create more qualified women.”
Hoeber also suggests that speaking with current athletes, and implementing the possibility of future coaching positions early on can help minimize the discrepancies over time. However, while this may be a step in the right direction, it’s not a perfect plan.
“Sometimes, part of the problem is that we tell male students or athletes to think about [coaching], but I don’t think they do that as much with female athletes,” she said. “There is a women in coaching program set up through the National Coaching Association to try and get more women to be mentored with other coaches, there are things out there, but at the local level it is challenging.”
Even with increases in female qualifications and coaching programs, Hoeber is skeptical that the results would be anything significant.
“I don’t think it would make massive differences because I still think if a female thought about going into coaching she is still going to face the issue of feeling like perhaps at the hiring process maybe she isn’t qualified enough, is she going to be accepted and having to make tough decisions about kids? It’s coming, but it is not massive changes. In coaching we don’t have a lot of visible, high profile women in those positions,” she said.
While some people, including Huisman, still believe that regardless of the statistics, the CIS is a place where gender equality is encouraged. But when the numbers are separated by such extreme amounts, unless something drastic is done, the possibility for future changes in coaching positions looks grim.
“I believe CIS institutions are among the leaders in Canada for providing support and employment opportunities for female coaches,” said Huisman. “Can CIS as a collective do more in that regard? In this and many other areas, the answer is yes.”
Photo by Arthur Ward