Let’s Get To The Bottom Of Why Male And Female Coaches Are Treated Differently

A new survey shows indisputable truth of gender bias in college sports

Women's basketball head coach Pat Summitt (Image via Wikipedia)

Teresa Phillips is in a league all her own. As the one-time head coach of Tennessee State’s men’s basketball team, she alone represents the single, solitary, female coach for all of Division 1 NCAA men’s basketball. Ever.

Her representation matters all the more when you consider the fact that just 40 percent of all head coaches in women’s NCAA athletics in 2015 were women. As FiveThirtyEight points out, that number gets even more abysmal, just 38 percent, when looking at Division 1. Only 2-3 percent of all men’s coaches across divisions and sports are women. With Phillips moving on to become TSU’s athletic director, the number of women coaching men’s basketball has fallen back to a big fat zero.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Only 23 percent of all head coaches are female.[/quote]

A recent survey conducted by the Women’s Sports Foundation sheds more light on the very real problem of gender bias in college sports. Despite the fact that women’s sports have greatly expanded in recent decades—with more than 9,500 intercollegiate teams in America—only 23 percent of all head coaches are female. To get to the bottom of why that is and to understand how the culture differs in women’s sports, the foundation surveyed more than 2,000 current coaches over the course of two nationwide online surveys. Additionally, researchers interviewed a sample of 326 former coaches, providing both quantitative and qualitative feedback.

The data-driven research shows that, even within the women’s sports arena, intercollegiate female coaches face stark biases that male coaches simply do not. To be clear, the biases were associated with the gender of the coach and not the overall team’s bias. Some of the report’s findings are fairly obvious, which makes it even more surprising that research of this caliber hasn’t been conducted until now. For instance, while female coaches are largely aware of gender discrimination, their male colleagues are just as often clueless about the widespread problem. As the authors state,

“While 5 percent of male coaches believed that male coaches were ‘favored over female coaches’ by management, 31 percent of female coaches believed so. Just 35 percent of female coaches felt men and women ‘are managed in similar ways,’ compared to 61 percent of male coaches.”

More than 60 percent of the women surveyed have observed that it’s easier for men to get top-level coaching positions—which isn’t that surprising considering a whopping 75 percent see their male colleagues having an easier time negotiating pay raises.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Nearly half of the female coaches surveyed report 'being paid less for doing the same job as other coaches.'[/quote]

As with many other professions, nearly half of the female coaches surveyed report “being paid less for doing the same job as other coaches.” Similarly, twice as many women as men reported that their supervisors tend to evaluate their job performance differently because of their gender. Because women regularly experience these biases in the workplace, female coaches are often hesitant to speak out about Title IX infractions for fear of retaliation or even fear of losing their jobs.

While instances of bias might seem abstract from a distance, real-world examples cement the validity of the study’s findings. Last year, three women who formerly served as head coaches at the University of Minnesota-Duluth decided to sue the school for gender discrimination. One of the plaintiffs, Shannon Miller, took the women’s hockey team to five national championships during her 16 seasons as head coach, even while making 30 percent less than the men’s hockey coach. According to CNN, the UMD athletics director decided to let her go for “strictly financial” reasons.

As the study’s authors conclude:

“Claims of sexism and differential treatment toward women coaches are not cultural fictions or statistical flukes … the expansion of women’s sports and teams under NCAA governance has resulted in more coaching positions for men than women. Additionally, men also monopolize coaching positions in men’s sports, which basically means that they enjoy a dual-career path in intercollegiate coaching.”

If we’re going to do something about gender equality in all workplaces, we have to recognize the problem first. Hopefully, this study will compel administrators and average sports fans alike to do just that.