Women’s leadership reached a historic milestone in 2016: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May lead two of the world’s top economies. Elsewhere, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, and Janet Yellen, chair of the board of governors of the US Federal Reserve, are in charge of major global financial institutions.
This represents a significant shift in gender dynamics in the political and economic realms, even with Hillary Clinton falling short of becoming the first woman president of the United States.
While women have seats at the table where major economic and financial decisions are made, they have not yet reached the top leadership positions in sport. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and FIFA, football’s international governing body, widely regarded as the most prestigious and influential sport organisations, have never been led by a woman. Since the IOC’s inception in 1894, its president has been a man; FIFA has similarly had a man in charge since its establishment more than a century ago.
My latest research, based on the Sydney Scoreboard Global Index for Women in Sport Leadership, shows that women chaired only 7% (5 of 70) of international sport federations in 2016 (see table below). This is the same as in 2012, so no positive change has been achieved in the past four years. Women occupied 19% (12 of 64) of chief executive positions in 2016, up from 8% in 2012.
So men hold a staggering 93% of chair or president roles and 81% of chief executive positions. This means the key leadership positions in global sport governance and management remain largely elusive for women.
In addition, consider this: the majority of federations with a woman chair govern sports that have a relatively small participation base (for example, curling, sled-dog racing and underwater sports). Similarly, sports with a woman chief executive are mainly less popular, non-Olympic sports, such as air sports, climbing, waterskiing and wakeboarding.
But the key finding of my research relates to women’s representation as directors of international federation boards. Currently, women hold 16.3% of directorships across the international governing sport bodies. Despite a slight increase of 4.2% since 2012, women remain markedly underrepresented. Gender balance in board composition – usually defined as between 40-60% of either gender – is still a long way off.