Money Smart Athlete Blog

Female empowerment in sports requires the actions of male sports leaders

Dec 25, 2019 | Women Athletes

By Andreas Themistocleous, Contributor

I recently attended a global summit on women’s football and was pleasantly surprised by the large participation of male professionals attending and participating on the subject. As I mentioned in one of my interventions, we have reached the point where it’s no longer necessary to argue the need for female empowerment, or the need for equal representation and managerial gender diversity; certainly, we are far past the point of raising issues on human rights and the sort, in discussing the need for the above. Instead, we should be focusing on an action plan.

To refresh the readers’ memory, even though scientific data is compellingly mixed in conclusions, the presence of females on the decision-making bodies of any organization can have a significantly positive effect in the business aspect of an organization, including issues of management, ethical considerations, sustainability and so on. Females are able to challenge the status quo in organizations and create different mindsets. Based on research evidence, they seem to be able to relate to organizational problems and risks in a more comprehensive and sensitive way, the same way they address issues with human resources, being more thorough, more attentive to details and core organizational needs. Females in decision-making positions and boards of directors, not only improve the rates of participation for their male counterparts (go figure), but also induce better financial results, based on their style of leadership. Notice how research does not concentrate on qualifications; I certainly don’t and neither should you. It’s established beyond any doubt that a qualified individual, a shiny resume, doesn’t have a gender label attached to it. It appears to be related to soft skills, management style, mindsets and approach. Any questions…??

What strikes me as even more odd, in this less than logical quest for gender diversity and balance, is the fact that for quite some time in the past, female empowerment enthusiasts, usually an all-female audience, sought to affect and effect change by excluding men. Impacting change through the source of the problem was unheard of apparently, hence the various organizations being formed to drive change had an all-female representation. Human rights and psychographics were the main driver, however, the approach lacked the most primitive conclusion of all, for this case at least, based on a very simple question, as follows:

“As of yet, who makes the decisions and what is the gender composition of decision-making bodies?”

The UEFA Executive Committee, responsible for the running of European Football, is comprised of 19 members, only one of which is a female (1 out of 19). I remind you that UEFA, as an entity, has an annual revenue of almost three billion euros and controls the outcome and fate of 56 national federations that compete in European football. In the USA since the year 2000, 67 professional sports franchises have been sold, with only one (the NFL’s Buffalo Bills) being purchased by a woman. As of today, the NBA has only four female owners out of thirty franchises (4 out of 30), all of which have risen to the position due to the death of a family member or spouse. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Having established the need to include more females in decision-making positions, utilizing various arguments including scientific research, it’s now time to shift our focus on the “How” and not on the “Why”. If a plan was to be put in place tomorrow, whether that be governmental legislation or a sporting legislation, the people who would be called upon to ratify and implement the legislation would be a body, overwhelmingly, composed of men. One could argue that I too, being a male, cannot be entirely unbiased and in position to offer such advice, however the truth of the matter is that female empowerment and especially sport growth should utilize the expertise of both males and females, having in mind that males (however unfortunate) should have a leading role in this change as well, simply because they hold the voting rights at this moment in time.

This is not to say that this system, too, shouldn’t change, but my logic stems from the fact that we should not wait for a lengthy process of renewing the composition of decision-making bodies, prior to pushing for female empowerment and advancement in positions of hierarchy. Instead, we should look to make males the advocates of this change, grow the population of females in decision-making positions and positions of authority, utilizing this change to impact the change in the composition of decision-making bodies, based of course on the current system of selection, especially in the global sports industry.

It might sound crazy at first, but let’s face it that if we want to change the current system all together, we have to do it using the vote of the people who run the show. Today, these are mostly men and yes, we should get men to change the system in favor of women, no matter how difficult it may seem, or how irrational it may appear to females. Looking at the entire scenario with an out-of-the-box perspective, indicates that this suggestion is the fastest way forward.

If you are a man reading this article, envision yourself as a leader of change and embrace the need for organizational success as a top priority, which after all is everyone’s mission as a decision-maker. If you are a woman, perhaps you should accept the fact that the end justifies the means and include men in your rightful quest for female empowerment, gender balance and diversity, which ultimately will lead to organizational success as well. It’s a win-win situation for all, if you think about it.      


Andreas T. Themistocleous (BSc, MA, MBA) is a native of Famagusta, Cyprus. He is a former basketball player, a NCAA Division I student-athlete and now a sports management/business professional. He has served in the sport industry from several positions, most notably in club football management, as a Board member of sport federations and as lecturer in academia. He is currently in the sports services industry. To connect and network with Andreas, you may find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.