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#TimesUp in Sport: Part 2 - The Way Forward Requires Diversified Leadership

A lack of diversity throughout the sport industry has become increasingly detrimental to the safety and well being of participants and bystanders. The recent onslaught of sexual abuse scandals within the USOC, Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and USA Swimming, along with the sexual discrimination and harassment claims within ESPN and the Dallas Mavericks organization have shed considerable light on the unethical and corrupt nature of the industry.

This is not the first time a series of sexual assault scandals has rocked the sporting world. Florida State University, Baylor University, Notre Dame University, the University of North Carolina, Penn State University, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Minnesota are a few of the other major NCAA programs with histories of underreported sexual abuse and rape cases.

men maintain the majority of leadership roles

This lack of organizational diversity is extremely detrimental and may enable the corruption that continues to plague this industry. Research has demonstrated that organizations placing a preference on masculinity along with an emphasis on transactional leadership styles may enable unethical and undesirable outcomes. For example, women leaders have been rated as more ethical and more honest than their male counterparts, and women have been rated as more successful in mentoring their own employees. Additional research has indicated that, when compared with their male counterparts, women leaders and those maintaining transformational leadership styles:

(1) Are more likely to motivate others by transforming individual interests into group goals.

(2) Tend to use more interactive leadership styles through their encouragement of participation, by sharing power and information, and through enhancing employee self-worth.

(3) Are more likely to attribute their power to their interpersonal skill set not to organizational status.

(4) Are often found to believe that their employees perform best if they feel good about themselves/their work and subsequently attempt to create situations that contribute to those feelings.

(5) Are more likely to put forth efforts to make their employees feel apart of the organization.

Employee outrage over sexual harassment and discrimination within sport organizations is often countered by leadership with claims of ‘diversity initiatives’ that do little to change the culture of the industry. Instead, White heterosexual men maintain the majority of leadership and executive level roles in both administration and coaching. The preferences towards these hiring practices have not been established as essential to organizational success. Instead, employees typically rate men lower in terms of their leadership effectiveness.

In a 2014 study of roughly 16,000 leaders, both male and female, employees were asked to rate their supervisor’s skill set and overall effectiveness. Women were rated higher than their male counterparts for 12 of the 16 leadership competencies as decided upon by their subordinates, and 10 of these differences were statistically significant.

Women leaders were found to be outperforming their male counterparts in the following essential leadership competencies: (1) takes initiative, (2) displays high integrity and honesty, (3) drives for results, (4) practices self development, (5) develops others, (6) inspires and motivates others, (7) builds relationships, (8) collaboration and teamwork, (9) champions change, and (10) establishes stretch goals (Sherwin, 2014). Women leaders, although not statistically significant, were also found to exceed the rankings of their male counterparts in the following leadership competencies: (1) connects the group to the outside world, and (2) innovates.

In all, the culture of these sport organizations needs to be significantly altered. While many call for leadership changes once these scandals are made public, consistently acting on the defensive is no longer a sufficient tactic. The research suggests that greater levels of organizational diversity may positively influence the current state of sport. Women leaders may not be the entire solution to this corrupt culture, but male leaders have certainly enabled the problems.