22 May Unlocking greatness in girls: Sports and leadership
The World Economic Forum predicted earlier this year that it will be 118 years before women have the same career prospects as men. No country in the world has closed its gender gap.
Even as female leaders steer multinationals and major economies, the reality in 2016 is a working world which still exclude, underpays, overlooks and exploits half of its available talent.
As a career woman, those statistics are staggering and somewhat discouraging. But all is not lost. I came across a blog by Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair – Public Policy at EY where she outlined a plan to close the gender gap in Executive positions and in the Boardrooms.
Companies should invest in a pipeline uniquely equipped with the leadership skills to make it to the top – female athletes.
The research into the direct linkage between women exposed to sports and in top-level positions is fascinating. Even in the hiring process, women with a sports background were judged favourably because they were thought to have the following traits: strong work ethic, team players and determined. Just take a look at the high-powered women across the globe who used to play competitive sports:
- Christine Lagarde (Managing Director of the IMF) – synchronized swimming
- Michelle Bachelet (first female President of Chile) – volleyball
- Irene Rosenfeld (International Chair and CEO of Mondelez) – basketball
- Condoleeza Rice (former US Secretary of State) – figure skating
- Meg Whitman (President and CEO Hewlett Packard Enterprise) – lacrosse, squash
- Ellen Kullman (former CEO of DuPont) – basketball
- Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo CEO) – cricket
- Irene Rosenfeld (Kraft Foods CEO) – four varsity sports in high school and college basketball at Cornell University in New York
- Mary Schapiro (SEC Chairman) – lacrosse and field hockey
Each one of the women noted above, agreed that a sports background instilled in them valuable lessons for the boardroom, a mental and emotional toughness and the ability to speak a key business language obscured to those who don’t “get” sports
Unfortunately, I could not get statistics for female leaders in the Caribbean. It would be interesting to see the same trend exists within this region or if there are other factors which help women succeed in the workplace. I was very intrigued and opted to do some more research into the findings. In almost every article I have read, there seems to be a bias towards team sports as opposed to individual sports. As someone who has played both individual and team sports, there is great learning in both forms which have helped me in the workplace.
I started to think about what traits I have developed over the years which were put to the test in my professional life. I remembered when being a former athlete gave me the edge in an interview process because the company valued teamwork and discipline.
My career has had its ups and downs, however, throughout the years, I can attest that there is no better training ground for success in business than my foundation in sports:
- Teamwork: Sports taught me how to cooperate with others to achieve a common goal. I learnt how to respect diversity and to play the delicate balance of compromise. Being able to work on a team is a crucial part to any hiring process.
- Goal Oriented: As an athlete, I was always looking to improve my performance. It may be to run further, faster or be more consistent with my backhand. Employers need workers that will work hard to accomplish their goals and continually “raise the bar.”
- Perseverance and Resilience: This has probably served me the best in my professional life. I learnt that if I got knocked down, literally and figuratively, I can pick myself up and keep going. People that persevere in business, work hard to hold themselves and others responsible for achieving business objectives. They don’t let obstacles get in their way.
- Time-Management: With a full-time schedule of 5am training, school, lessons and return to the court for another hour of practice, I learnt at a young age how to balance school, home work and athletics. Employers desire efficient workers that are self-motivated and stay on task.
- Competitive & Assertive: Competitive activity teaches the importance of winning and bouncing back after losing. Engaging in competitive activity as a child helped me to learn that it is acceptable to compete aggressively even if it is against men. No matter the industry, business is a competitive sport.
- Leadership Skills: I learnt how to share roles, listen to others and to step up to the plate in crunch time. Leadership takes on various roles in the workplace whether it is personal leadership, rallying the team to complete a project or being a problem solver.
- Being coachable: No one likes to work with a know-it-all. Sports taught me how to receive constructive feedback and to take advice. You may not always agree with the feedback but in the interest of the team or winning, you learn to play within the guidelines and to subordinate individual interest to succeed.
Based on the overwhelming evidence, playing sports could be the edge that females need to excel in the workplace.
Sporting organisations and the Ministries of Sports across the Caribbean should take a closer look at the benefits of girls playing sports and help get more on the field/court. Parents should be encouraged to get girls involved in sports to promote a healthy lifestyle and high self-esteem. Business leaders need to recognise that females are important players in the economic development of the Caribbean, be proactive in sponsoring sporting events and work with national associations to recruit qualified female athletes into their organisations.