Historically, sports have been male-dominated. From unequal representation to unequal pay, women have had to work hard to make sure others play fair. Gender inequality is still a major problem in the world of athletics, but steps are being taken to change that.
For the second year, espnW held its Women and Sports Conference in Chicago to discuss the impact female athletes, mentors, and marketers can and should have on the industry as a whole. While research shows that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers, the gender makeup of many sports-related enterprises typically skews towards those with XY chromosomes.
However, some of the trailblazers who spoke at the conference are trying to flip the script.
The Editor-in-Chief for both ESPN The Magazine and espnW, Alison Overholt, is optimistic that her success in the industry will help younger women stay focused on their goals.
“My biggest hope is that because I got to be the first [Editor-in-Chief at The Magazine], nobody else ever has to think about that again.”
Julie Foudy, a two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer champion and U.S. soccer team captain turned successful ESPN sports journalist, said that she wished other women had encouraged her to have more courage as a kid and to not let her gender dominate the conversation.
“I want women to be like, ‘Hey, maybe I don’t know that skill set yet, but I’m going to raise my hand because the person next to me doesn’t know either and they’re raising their hand,” said Foudy to her audience at the conference.
April Ross, USA volleyball athlete, also discussed the issues of body image and equal pay in the industry on a panel with other Olympians. And while the Olympics are steeped in tradition, there are some talks about switching things up there, too.
There’s some talk that mixed gender relays may soon become a part of the Olympic Games. While by no means a done deal, the idea may drum up new interest in the Games for both participants and spectators. While they can’t simply add new mixed-gender events, it’s been speculated that the 2020 games in Tokyo could include additional events involving both genders in the realms of swimming, archery, triathlon, and taekwondo.
But it’s not only important for professional female athletes to feel like they have the same rights as their counterparts. There’s still a stigma that surrounds women who like to play sports just for fun, too. We know that participation in sports can improve cardiovascular endurance, which is vital for women of any age. Heart disease is the number one killer, especially for women, as it claimed nearly 800,000 lives in 2011. Involvement in sports can also increase self-esteem, but only when females are given the respect they deserve.
While there’s still a lot to be done to ensure women enjoy the same benefits as men do in the world of sports, at least it seems like those who are fighting for women’s equality and representation are on the right track.