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Survey: Ethnic minority women in college sports need more opportunities


Respondents to an NCAA survey of ethnic minority women in college coaching and sports administration indicated concern and frustration about opportunities available to them in their careers.

In the study, titled “Perceived Barriers for Ethnic Minority Females in Collegiate Athletics Careers,” almost all respondents agreed there are qualified ethnic minority women and men who don’t apply for jobs because of hiring perceptions and perceived barriers. Ethnic minority females account for fewer than 7 percent of the athletics professionals at NCAA member schools in all three divisions.

Further, only 19 percent of those who responded to the survey concurred with the statement: “The most qualified applicants are being hired in athletics regardless of race/ethnicity.”

A total of 529 ethnic minority women – about 10 percent of the population of ethnic minority female coaches and administrators – responded to the online survey, which was commissioned by two NCAA committees: the Minority Interests and Opportunities Committee and the Committee for Women in Athletics. The size of the respondent pool, NCAA researchers emphasized, was too small to suggest the data is representative of the entire population of ethnic minority women who work in college sports.

There is no contact list for all ethnic minority females in the NCAA membership, so participants were notified of the study mostly through word-of-mouth means.

Nnenna Akotaobi, associate athletics director and senior woman administrator at Swarthmore College, is a member of the Minority Interests and Opportunities Committee and chair of theWomen of Color Subcommittee. In part because of past conversations with her colleagues, Akotaobi said the survey was conducted to seek corroboration of perceptions voiced to her and others.

“We have often made similar types of observations anecdotally without much evidence, just based off of our experiences,” Akotaobi said. “I think this was an opportunity to say: Let’s see if what we are experiencing is actually what’s happening. Let’s see if there is actual data to back up those similar observations.”

The committees hope the findings will shine a spotlight on potential fixes for these perceptions. The research findings should be used, the committees said, “to fuel a more robust conversation” in college sports about career obstacles that all minority groups, but particularly ethic minority women, are facing.

The roots of the survey on ethnic minority female barriers extend to 2007-08, when the NCAA assessed perceptions regarding athletics careers among female student-athletes, coaches, administrators and officials of all races.

The more recent project sought to collect empirical evidence on factors influencing minority women’s careers, including hurdles athletics departments must navigate in recruiting and retaining these women. Another goal was to determine any lack of available resources in assisting ethnic minority women, who are one of the fastest-growing undergraduate populations in the nation.

Among positives of the survey was a finding that nearly 80 percent of respondents said they would follow an athletics career path again if they were to start anew. Sixty-six percent noted they would also encourage current student-athletes to pursue careers in college sports.

However, the respondents, when asked why more women of color aren’t moving into leadership positions, cited job availability, stereotyping of women in athletics and a shortage of ethnicminority women now in top positions who could act as role models. Fifty-five percent presented a belief that some athletics administrators hire only individuals of the same race or ethnicity that they are.

In January, the NCAA Board of Governors unanimously approved a resolution to further commit the Association to promote diversity and inclusion in athletics. To that end, the research onethnic minority female barriers recommends “next steps,” urging the Association to continue its push to enhance  the pipeline for racial diversity in coaching and athletics administration.

Among resources the study identified to assist ethnic minority women: expanded networking opportunities, more exposure to professional organizations and urging schools to re-examine hiring practices to ensure diversity. Also, the 2016 NCAA Inclusion Forum, set for April 16-18 in Indianapolis, will conduct a focus group on issues raised by the survey.

“I think it’s important not just that we have the conversation but that we figure out how to better align programs and resources to some of the issues we’ve concluded based on the study,” Akotaobi said.

Tom Rietmann, republished with permission NCAA


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