Women in soccer fail to score top jobs off the field

Andrea Koenig, director of French soccer club Racing de Lens, says that in her job she often walks into rooms filled with hundreds of men. I prepared her for this purpose 25 years ago as an investment banker. “That means I feel absolutely no discomfort in a room of 200 men. Like zero. And I have an internal filter for insensitive language. Ninety-nine percent of the asset managers I used to deal with were men.

Now must be an upward moment for working women in soccer. The Women’s World Cup, which kicks off in Australia and New Zealand on July 20, is expected to be the highest-profile women’s football tournament to date. Hannah Dingley became the first woman to manage England’s first professional men’s team as she took over the supervisory role at Fourth Division club Forest Green Rovers this month – although she has now been replaced by a male head coach. More than 50 English clubs have signed up to the Football Association’s Leadership Diversity Code, which, among other things, sets targets for hiring female coaches, chief executives and other off-field staff.

But, even as women’s influence on the field increases, the people running men’s and women’s games from the sidelines and back offices remain overwhelmingly male. “Everyone says we need more women in sports, but I haven’t seen that yet, not at a senior level anyway.” Koenig says.

The exact gender imbalance in the game is unclear, says Ebru Koksal, president of the Women in Football Network, because “we don’t know how many women are working in football. We don’t have data on senior management, middle management, no data on the workforce, period.” However, she does offer some statistics: “Nine percent of board members at Premier League clubs are female. In national associations, only 2 percent of chairmen and CEOs are women.”

Perhaps football’s most famous female captain remains Hannah Waddingham, who plays fictional Richmond club owner Rebecca Wilton on a TV series. Ted Lasso. From 2021-22, one of the FA’s diversity law signatories’ targets is that 30 per cent of new staff in senior leadership must be women; In this event, the “collection football average” was 17.9 percent. And this is in English football, in which the gender balance, as Coxsall points out, is “by far” ahead of the European continent.

Forest Green Rovers Goalkeeper Coach Dan Connor Looks On As They Talk To Hannah Dingley, Caretaker Manager Of Forest Green Rovers, During The Pre-Season Friendly Match Between Melksham Town And Forest Green Rovers At Uckfield On July 5 In Melksham, England.
Hannah Dingley became the first woman to manage a professional English men’s team as an apprentice at Fourth Division club Forest Green Rovers © Ryan Hiscott / Getty Images

Women tend to be isolated in club departments such as human resources, marketing, or logistics. They are rarely hired for income generating roles such as CFO or as coaches, performance analysts and scouts. Few become decision makers. While “about 27 percent of workers at men’s professional football clubs are women,” that percentage drops to 14 percent in the highest paid quartile, Durham University’s Amy Gill wrote in 2019.

Liz Klavenice, president of the Football Association of Norway, believes that women tend not to seek low-paying and insecure starting roles in the football industry because they have few opportunities for progression. When she played professionally, some of her male coaches rose to well-paying jobs. The females did not. Why would women sacrifice their weekends and evenings to this all-consuming industry if they could not expect rewards in the future?

How can female employment be increased in men’s football – where the vast majority of money and jobs are – as well as the women’s game?

The first step to making football more welcoming to women is to change its culture. “The cultures in these organizations arose long before there were women,” says Yvonne Harrison, chief executive of Women in Football. In this sense, soccer is like the construction industry, or parts of engineering.

Sexual remarks and sexual harassment are still common. Only recently have employers begun to punish offenders. Ajax’s director of football, Marc Overmars, left last year after sending what the club described as “a series of inappropriate messages to several female colleagues”. In February of this year, the president of the French Federation, Noel Le Graet, resigned after the state inspectorate accused him of missteps including “inappropriate behavior towards women”. “It felt like we were a little bit back in the ’70s,” Harrison notes of Dingley’s mistreatment on social media and in radio phone calls after her appointment.

Francesca Whitfield, Manchester United’s head of group planning, worries about the public’s response if she takes on a high-profile job: “They may think I don’t know as much about football as their male counterparts.”

Francesca Whitfield, Head Of Group Planning At Manchester United
Francesca Whitfield, head of group planning at Manchester United: ‘They may think I don’t know as much about football as their male counterparts’

The exclusion of women also occurs in unintended ways. “No woman will ever go to a place where she says in a job advertisement, ‘Are you hungry . . . ’”. “The whole industry has been a little aggressive in its tone,” says Claveness. Nor did they allocate much to employees who had caring responsibilities. Klaveness, who has three kids but traveled 200 days last year, is raising awareness by occasionally bringing her kids to work events.

Even some well-meaning young executives in charge of clubs do not see these forms of exclusion, in part because they are not told. Two-thirds of Women in Football members of a survey said they experienced gender discrimination in football, but only 12 percent of the incidents were reported and then often dismissed as “joking”. That may change with more women in top positions.

Another exclusionary mechanism is imitating football in recruiting without advertising jobs. “Women don’t get the same opportunities to discover new jobs,” says Harrison. “They’re not in these closed networks.” English football’s new online recruitment platform, launched in 2021, with more than 2,600 vacancies posted in the first 18 months, could help change that.

The bigger question, given that organic change has been so slow, is whether football needs hard quotas for hiring women. Most of the women in the game express their wariness of this. I don’t think quotas are the answer to anything. “I’m a competitive person – everyone in football is,” says Claveness. “Of course you don’t want to work with people who want to be political about gender all the time. It’s exhausting.”

However, she and Whitfield can now see the issue of the quota system, albeit only as one of a set of pro-women policies.

Klavenis notes that in 2003 Norway became the first country to set a 40 percent quota for women on the boards of directors of listed companies. This international trend began. Once more women enter an industry, she adds, their presence becomes less noticeable. If a woman fails at football – as coaches do every day – it will not be seen as denigrating all women.

But to be appointed to the higher posts, there must be a group of women who have gained experience in the lower posts.

Dingley, for example, led a youth academy before becoming a principal. “I didn’t just move today and chose to coach a men’s team,” she said.

Football needs to create programs to fill that line, Claveness says. “I was the head coach of the federation for four years and tried to recruit female coaches to the youth national teams. Almost no one applied.”

Norwegian Football Association President Liz Klavenice Speaks To Guests During Uefa'S 47Th Ordinary Congress Meeting In April In Lisbon, Portugal.
The President of the Norwegian Football Association, Lise Klavenice, addresses guests during the 47th Ordinary UEFA Congress Meeting in April in Lisbon. © Carlos Rodrigues / UEFA / Getty Images

Klavenis encourages football to develop women who, for example, can become managers of the Manchester United men’s team or sports director of a major club in three or five years. “If you don’t think this is possible, why not? This is what we can do in football: we develop people, we develop skills.”

One hopeful aspect is that soccer traditionally hires ex-players, so today’s top-level women’s teams should fill more coaching and background roles in the future.

Another positive sign is that women who work in the industry, at least in England, often report good experiences. Seventy-eight percent of Women in Football members said they “feel supported” by their colleagues, and 66 percent by their employers.

At Manchester United, Whitfield says: “I’m surrounded by men who don’t really see sex. I’m pushed by the guys I’ve worked with. It’s a very level playing field for me.”

Norwich City’s head of emerging talent, Mariella Nisotake, believes she is just one of three scouts working for European men’s clubs. However, her experiences have been, she says, “more positive than negative.” People are curious: “How do you do in football?” Maybe they like you more, because you did it as a woman.”

When other women seek advice on a career in soccer, Nisutake tells them their timing is good: “There’s a lot of promotion for women right now.”

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