The experiences of female employees have differed from males with regard to access to and ascension through a sport organization. Numerous structural and cultural factors could impact these experiences. The purpose of this study was to gain insight from females employed in intercollegiate athletics administration in order to identify factors that have impacted female representation within this field. Eleven females employed at three NCAA Division I institutions located in the Southern United States participated in this study. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews. The framework for this study was shaped by social role and role congruity theories. Participants attributed work-family conflict, gender ideologies, and informal social networks as factors that have influenced female representation within thisprofession.



Sport has been labeled the “generic preserve of men” because many sport organizations have been male dominated, especially with regard to management of these organizations (30, 7). Most managerial positions have been occupied by a Caucasian, Protestant, able-bodied, heterosexual male (14, 28). On the other hand, female presence in managerial capacities within sport organizations has not been as widespread.

Explanations with regard to reasons why females have not held the majority of management positions in sport organizations have been offered. One explanation is that sport organizations are settings that often reflect societal attitudes and beliefs (2, 25, 17, 23). Society has traditionally characterized females as caring, good at organizing, and domestically oriented (6). They are also perceived to be empathetic communicators but are not aggressive nor are they “big picture” thinkers. Conversely, it has been argued that males hold managerial positions because society perceives men as natural leaders who have the ability to see the overall vision of an organization (28). Although females have held management positions in numerous sport organizations, the practice of placing them in roles thought of as“appropriate” to their gender has been argued to occur as a result of these attitudes (21, 26, 27). For example, appropriate positions have been described as those related to “housekeeping” roles of management. These roles have been described as those not requiring proficiency in leadership and decision-making but rather emphasizing caring and empathy (12, 11).

The influence of socially constructed meanings associated with gender and perceived congruity or incongruity between these meanings and role fulfillment could also be useful in explaining female representation within sport organizations. Aggressive, ambitious, dominant, forceful, independent, self-sufficient, and self-confident are characteristics attributed to masculinity. On the other hand, caring, kind, and sympathetic are characteristics attributed to femininity (11). Since males are expected to be dominant and aggressive, they would be assumed to be compatible with roles connected to directing others. Since females are expected to demonstrate kindness and sensitivity, they would be assumed to be compatible with roles that involve caring, nurturing, or giving support (9, 8). If an individual fulfills roles that alignwith socially constructed characteristics of masculinity and femininity, role congruity has been achieved (10). Conversely, incongruity would exist if the individual fulfilled a role that did not align with socially constructed masculine or feminine characteristics. As a result of these assumptions, individuals in decision-making capacities at sport organizations might hire and/or promote an individual based on perceptions of congruity between the individual and the role that must be fulfilled.

The field of intercollegiate athletics administration was selected for this study because little research has been devoted to an understanding of why women are underrepresented in key leadership positions in college athletics (24). Overall, females hold nearly 36% of the administrative positions within intercollegiate athletics departments in the United States (1). Although there is a presence of females in this profession, they are present in various roles and operating areas to a larger extent than others. With regard to the position of athletics director, females hold approximately 20% of athletics directors’ positions at NCAA Division I, II, and III institutions (1). Female representation in the athletics director position is lowest at NCAA Division I institutions. These institutions typically incur the highestoperating costs and generate the highest revenues from ticket sales, merchandise, and television contracts (7). Approximately 11% of athletics directors at such institutions are female.

Within this profession, there are certain operating units that are directed in large part by females and others that are directed in large part by males. For example, sports information and operations are areas where males have occupied the vast majority of leadership positions. Sport information directors are responsible for overseeing the maintenance and dissemination of statistical data compiled during athletics competition. Operations directors are primarily responsible for the coordination of maintaining athletics facilities. Approximately 88% of sports information directors and approximately 87% of facility/operations directors at NCAA Division I, II, and III institutions are male (19).

On the other hand, females are represented to a greater extent than males within other operating areas. Academic advising, compliance, and student success/life skills are areas in which the highest percentages of females serve in leadership capacities. Academic advisers and life skills coordinators assist student-athletes with creating their course schedules and help prepare them for life after graduation. Compliance directors ensure the athletics department is compliant with NCAA regulations. Nearly 62% of academic advising units within NCAA Division I, II and III athletics departments are lead by a female. Approximately 54% of all compliance coordinators are female. Lastly, nearly 72% of life skills coordinators are female (19).

In summation, females have a significant presence inside numerous operating areas within the profession of intercollegiate athletics administration but are largely absent from others. In order to gain further insight into possible reasons that have resulted in various levels of female representation in this setting, the perspectives of females employed in this environment were sought. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to gain insight from females employed in intercollegiate athletics administration in order to identify factors that have impacted female representation within this profession.



Because the purpose of this study was to investigate female intercollegiate athletics department employees’ perceptions of factors affecting female representation within their profession, it was important to select participants who could help the investigators achieve this purpose. Purposeful criterion sampling was the first strategy utilized in order to acquire participants for this study. Within purposeful criterion sampling, all cases must meet some pre-determined criterion of importance (22). A second form of purposeful sampling, homogeneous sampling, was utilized. Homogeneous sampling includes selecting similar cases in order to describe some subgroup in depth (16). Female administrators who were employed at intercollegiate athletics departments fit the desired criteria and were selected for this study.

Eleven females employed at three NCAA Division I institutions located in the Southern United States participated in this study. The ages of the participants ranged from 25-53 years. One participant identified herself as African American. Ten identified themselves as Caucasian. Five worked at university “A,” three at university “B,” and three at university “C.” One athletics director, one associate athletics director, one assistant athletics director, and two coordinators from university “A” participated. One associate athletics director, one assistant athletics director, and one coordinator from university “B” participated. Lastly, one assistant athletics director and two coordinators from university “C” participated.

Several operating areas were represented within the participant pool. One of the associate athletics directors was in charge of financial operations. The other associate athletics director oversaw facility and event operations. Two of the assistant athletics directors were in charge of marketing/promotions and one of the assistant athletics directors managed development and fundraising initiatives. Three of the coordinators directed the compliance programs within their respective departments. Two coordinators managed student-athlete academic services.

The length of time each participant was employed within intercollegiate athletics varied. The athletics director served in this field for just over 30 years. The associate athletics directors’ length of service varied from 15 to 20 years. The assistant athletics directors reported lengths of service between six to 12 years. The coordinators were employed in this profession between three and seven years.

Data Collection

After receiving institutional review board approval, the process of acquiring participants began. Potential participants for this study were located through an initial search of each institution’s athletics department web site. Each female administrator in the department was invited to participate in the study via a written letter. The purpose of the study and time commitment associated with participation was provided. Recipients of this letter were asked to respond with their interest via e-mail and were informed that follow-up correspondence would occur via e-mail in the event a response was not received. Six recipients responded to the written letter. The follow-up e-mail was sent approximately two weeks after the initial letters were mailed. Five additional employees agreed to participate after the follow-upe-mail was sent. These eleven individuals were contacted a second time via e-mail in order to arrange an interview at a time and date convenient to them.

Data focusing upon participants’ perceptions of factors affecting female representation in this profession were collected through qualitative measures. This method of inquiry was utilized in order to obtain descriptive data that would allow for a better understanding of the factors participants perceived as significant with regard to position fulfillment in this profession. The data collection method in this study was a semi-structured interview. Interviews were audio taped and lasted between 45-60 minutes. Participants were interviewed individually. When possible, interviews were conducted in a face-to-face format. Several participants were not available to meet in person for their interview. In those cases, interviews were conducted over the telephone. Interviews were conducted in a conference-call style in a securelocation so that only the investigators could hear the participants’ responses. The interview began with a series of pre-formatted, closed-end questions. Examples of closed-end questions included: “How long have you been employed in the profession of intercollegiate athletics administration?” and “What operating areas have you worked in as an employee within this profession?”

As the interview progressed, the investigators encouraged the participant to elaborate on their experiences as well as share their perspectives. Throughout the interview, probing questions were asked in order to obtain further detail and elaboration from the participant. An example of a question that was designed to encourage further elaboration was “Why do you believe females are represented in various operating areas within intercollegiate athletics departments more so than others?” The goal associated with asking these questions was to gain insight into factors they perceived were significant with regard to employment trends and opportunities for females within this profession. Upon completion of the interview, participants were asked debriefing questions. In addition, they chose a pseudonym. All names usedin this study were pseudonyms selected by the participants.

Data Analysis

Interviews were transcribed verbatim. Analytic induction was the approach that was utilized in this study in order to analyze interview data. An inductive approach is utilized when some specific problem, question, or issue becomes the focus of research. When utilizing this approach, the researcher does not attempt to prove or disprove hypotheses held prior to entering the study (4). The primary focus of this research was not to prove or disprove a hypothesis but rather gain insight into female intercollegiate athletics administrators’ perceptions of factors that have affected female representation in their profession.

After the interviews were transcribed, open and axial coding was utilized in order to sort the interview data into categories. Coding is a method of sorting descriptive data that has been collected so that it may be more easily referenced and retrievable at a later time (4). Open coding was the first activity that was practiced in this process. Basic concepts and themes were identified and the data were broken down, examined, and compared. During the open coding process, the authors identified keywords and statements that reoccurred in the interviews.

Once these reoccurring keywords or statements from the interviews were located, the next step was to place this content from the interview data into various categories. Axial coding was utilized in order to reassemble the data that were broken down during the open coding process. Through axial coding, categories were established and then refined in order to further organize and form a precise representation of the participants’ perceptions with regard to factors that have affected female representation within intercollegiate athletics administration.

Upon completion of the open and axial coding processes, a constant comparative method was utilized. A constant comparative method of data analysis entails the simultaneous process of coding and analyzing in order to develop emerging themes (15, 29). As data were analyzed, it was constantly reviewed to ensure the emerging themes accurately reflected the participants’ responses.

An important component of qualitative inquiry includes establishing trustworthiness (16). This process entails utilizing various procedures in order to convince the reader that measures were taken to ensure the material s/he is reading is consistent with what the participants actually said and experienced (22). Trustworthiness can be accomplished through a number of techniques. The techniques of peer debriefing and member checking were utilized in this study.

Peer debriefing includes external reflection and input into the researcher’s work (16). Two colleagues experienced in qualitative inquiry examined the transcripts as well as the manuscript and subsequently provided feedback. These individuals confirmed the content in the manuscript was an accurate representation of the content in the interview transcripts.

The process of member checking allows participants to confirm their statements were reported accurately (16). Each participant was provided with a copy of the transcript and manuscript. Participants were requested to analyze the documents in order to ensure their statements were reported accurately. All of the participants responded to a request for feedback and indicated their statements in the transcript and manuscript were recorded accurately.


The purpose of this study was to gain insight from female athletics administration employees in order to identify factors that have impacted female representation within intercollegiate athletics departments. Three themes emerged from the participants’ responses. The themes were: (a) work-family conflict, (b) gender ideologies and the “natural” fit, and (c) male dominated social networks.

Work-family Conflict

Females often assume the majority of domestic responsibilities in the household. In order to be perceived as committed to an organization, however, employees are expected to manage their domestic responsibilities in such a fashion so that they do not interfere with work responsibilities (18). Maintaining domestic responsibilities while fulfilling occupational responsibilities could be especially difficult because the employee might be required to work evenings, weekends, and holidays as well as travel frequently (5).

Work-family incompatibilities were repeatedly stated as a reason why participants believed females hold few of the management positions within various operating areas. Several participants indicated that extended hours and travel are significant aspects of their jobs and mentioned that females who work in this profession oftentimes leave because the quantity of hours spent on occupational obligations prevents them from fulfilling their domestic responsibilities. In order to stay in the profession, many female employees have elected to not start families of their own. Keri was a compliance coordinator within her department. She discussed how senior administrators in her department who have been in the profession for a number of years are single. She attributed their longevity to the fact that they have minimal domesticresponsibilities. She said,

I think for a lot of women, where it becomes important is do you want a family or a career?

I think one of our senior administrators out of 4 or 5 is married. I had a female boss at

another school and she didn’t get married until she was 40. She’s a senior manager, but for

40 years of her life it was either have a family or have a career, which is ultimately what it

comes down to.

As mentioned earlier, females working in this profession are represented within several operating areas more so than others. Academic advising, compliance, and student services have the highest percentages of female representation (19). A reason that was given with regard to why females are employed in these operating areas results from the schedule associated with particular positions. Lisa, an assistant athletics director in charge of marketing activities, acknowledged that females with families of their own manage these operating areas more often than others because of the required work schedule. She said,

Positions such as academic advising that don’t require you to travel or work on weekends

may be more appealing to women who are also mothers. I would also say that women that

don’t have families are more likely to take positions that are not overly represented by


The demands of the profession and potential work-family incompatibilities that could occur might not only cause many females to leave the profession but also prevent them from entering. Barbara was the athletics director in her department. She believed the occupational demands prevent many females from seeking employment in this field. She said,

The hours, the travel, the time doesn’t necessarily compute to a normal life. It is not a job

that is for everyone and it seems to me that the women we’re turning out in these sport

management programs, the students who get their degrees, they look at our jobs and very

few of them say ‘this is what I want to do.’

In summation, social role expectations are such that females are expected to assume domestic responsibilities to a greater extent than males (23). Many jobs within intercollegiate athletics administration make fulfilling domestic responsibilities difficult because an irregular schedule and frequent travel is often required (5). According to the participants, work-family incompatibilities prevent many females from entering into and/or remaining in the field. If they do, it is often in a position where the schedule better allows for the fulfillment of domestic responsibilities.

Gender Ideologies and the “Natural” Fit

Various assumptions with regard to gender and the fulfillment of employment roles exist within various sport organizations (28). It has been argued that certain positions are more appropriate for male employees whereas others are more appropriate for females (3). Within intercollegiate athletics departments, female representation is higher in some operating areas than others (19). For example, an area where female representation is high is academic advising for student-athletes. As a result of traditional gender ideologies and normative social roles, this position could be thought of as a natural fit for female employees. This is because females are assumed to be caring and nurturing and the advisor is often called upon to provide guidance or help nurture a student-athlete (26). Since congruency is perceived to exist betweenthe nature of the job and the nature of females, they might be thought of as better suited than males for this position.

Participants in this study were asked to provide their perspective as to why positions in certain areas are predominately held by females. Rebecca was the compliance coordinator within her department. She identified congruency between feminine attributes and the tasks associated with the position as a reason why females are more likely to be employed in areas such as academic advising. She said, “I think women are more caregivers and nurturers and they are naturally a better fit for some of those areas. You’re caring for student athletes and helping them develop. I think it fits with the nature of women.”

Elaine was the coordinator of academic services within her department. She also identified congruency between feminine attributes and required job tasks as a reason why females are present in such roles to a greater extent than males. She stated, “Academic advising is thought of as taking care of the kids, so to speak. Typically that type of thing lends itself towards getting a woman to do that.”

Rebecca and Elaine were two participants who did not view the possibility of gender ideologies influencing the fulfillment of certain positions within this profession as problematic. On the other hand, Maria expressed concern with this outcome at her institution. Maria was an associate athletics director in charge of facilities and event operations. She was concerned with the thought processes that result in the paucity of females within certain operating units and their abundance in others. She said,

My biggest concern is that there are tracks that they (females) are being hired for. You look

at a lot of schools and it seems that the top academic person is a woman and your top

compliance person is a woman if there are any women at all. I question if women are being

put into tracks that they think are female areas, taking care of kids so to speak. What I fear

is typecasting. You know, “this is a woman’s job.” Doing academic stuff. What I wish

would happen is that women are represented in every position across athletics programs.

Several other participants believed gender ideologies and position fulfillment have served to the detriment of female employees in this profession. Looking forward, however, participants perceived that gender ideologies influencing perceptions of natural fit as well as fulfillment of positions are disintegrating. Within this changing environment, participants felt that females are receiving stronger consideration for positions in operating areas where they have been previously underrepresented. Lori, the compliance coordinator within her department, stated,

I think it (the practice of hiring females for certain tracks) was sort of a reflection of society

where that was the case 20-25 years ago. I think it’s the same mentality that women are

teachers or nurses and that women should do academic support and some of the more care

and nurturing positions within an athletics department. I think that has to do with societal

perceptions about what women’s roles are but I don’t feel like that’s the case now. The

women I work with now are in the business office or the marketing or communications

office so I don’t feel like there’s a place now where they’re saying ‘that’s not an

appropriate place for a woman.’

In summation, gender ideologies were perceived as a factor that shaped female representation in this profession. The impact of gender ideologies upon position fulfillment in this profession resulted in higher levels of female representation in areas where caring and nurturing were perceived as significant job elements. Although gender ideologies were perceived to have affected female representation, participants perceived changing mindsets have resulted in increased female representation in operating areas that have been largely occupied by men.

Male Dominated Social Networks

Sport organizations such as intercollegiate athletics departments have traditionally been male dominated and have served the interests of men. Coakley (7) argued that females do not have strategic connections and networks to compete with male candidates for many upper level administrative positions. Informal networking could provide employees with valuable information and insight to aid in the advancement of their careers (20). Furthermore, membership within an informal network could help an individual access a position or promotion while lack of membership in such networks could prevent this access (24). Historically, white males have possessed those connections and held membership in the “old boys” network. As members of this network, they enjoyed preferential treatment in the hiring process or were givenpositions as a result of relationships they possessed with other members of this network (20).

The influence of informal networks upon female representation emerged from participants’ responses. Specifically, its effect upon the presence of females in upper level managerial positions (e.g., athletics director) was commented upon. Participants acknowledged that hiring practices benefitting members of the old boys network still exist; however, they perceived these practices occur with less frequency than before. As intercollegiate athletics programs have grown, they identified a shift from hiring someone based solely on a personal connection to someone who is qualified to run a department has occurred.

Sarah was an associate athletics director in charge of financial operations in her department. She has worked in this profession for just over 20 years and has seen changes in the way athletics departments fill vacancies. She acknowledged that the old boys network still exists but perceived that fewer vacancies are now filled through this network. She stated,

Rather than seeing where you used to have a good old boy network, picking their buddies

to fill various roles, now you’re seeing applicant pools and search committees utilizing

outside networks and resources for people to look for qualified candidates and that sort of

thing. I think it still exists to some extent and there are certain administrators that would be

very comfortable in hiring people they know. Do I think that’s the way the future of this

business is going? No. Everything I see is that people are taking more of a professional

approach to the business.

Barbara has worked in intercollegiate athletics administration for over 30 years. She also acknowledged the old boys network is still present but stated that hiring on the basis of a personal relationship has declined. The reason behind this was because the growth of athletics programs into multi-million dollar operations dictated the acquisition of personnel who could successfully run the department. She said,

I believe it’s still alive. I don’t know it’s alive and strong. I think it is decaying in some

ways because we don’t matriculate old coaches up any more. I think at one time you could

get a job if you knew the right people and it didn’t matter if you were qualified for the job.

I don’t believe that’s true anymore. Athletics today is not just looked at as being sport; it is

looked at as being a business. So now you’re bringing people along, whether they are male

or female, to execute the business at hand.

In summation, the presence of informal networks limited past opportunities for females in this profession. This was especially prevalent in the fulfillment of upper level positions such as athletics director. Participants perceived these networks have weakened and additional upper level administrative opportunities for females resulted. Although female representation is lower in the role of athletics director as opposed to various operating areas, participants were optimistic this position could see a greater level of female representation as objective measures are increasingly utilized in order to fill vacancies.


A number of factors were identified with regard to position fulfillment among females within intercollegiate athletics administration. First, incompatibility between occupational and domestic obligations was identified as a reason that has limited female representation within various operating areas. This was most evident in areas that require working irregular schedules and frequent travel.

Second, gender ideologies were identified as a reason why females are employed within various operating areas more so than others. Females have been assumed to be a better fit for positions where exercising feminine attributes are important (28). Participants perceived that females are more highly represented in areas such as academic advising and student services because the attributes needed to effectively fulfill the position in these areas are congruent with characteristics such as nurturing and empathy, which are commonly perceived as feminine.

Third, the presence of informal networks was perceived to affect female representation, especially in the athletics director position. Intercollegiate athletics programs have traditionally benefitted male applicants because of the presence of the old boys network. Although these networks have impacted position fulfillment in the past, participants perceived these networks are weakening as the process of filling vacancies has become more objective.


Circumstances that affect opportunities for females in this profession should be critically examined on an ongoing basis. Fink (13) stated, “We must continue to examine the issues of gender and sex diversity in sport organizations in order to make these organizations accessible, comfortable, and beneficial to all” (p. 147). Shaw (26) also advocated for ongoing critical inquiry of these issues because of the impact they could have upon organizational effectiveness. Furthermore, Coakley (7) stated that sport organizations “must critically assess the impact of male dominated/identified/centered forms of social organization” (p. 254). Continued critical inquiry on this topic is needed because of the effect it could have upon an organization as well as the experience of the individual employee.

A potential limitation associated with this study is that single interviews were conducted with each participant. It is possible that participants’ perspectives will change over time. For example, participants who did not see certain trends as problematic at this time might feel differently if they were passed over for a promotion for which they felt qualified. A suggestion for future research is to conduct longitudinal studies. These could reveal changing perspectives over the course of a career.

Lastly, further examination of perspectives and experiences of current employees could be beneficial to those who are interested in pursuing a career in this profession. By learning from those who are already employed, individuals who possess an interest in entering this profession could be better prepared for the challenges and circumstances they might encounter. Ideological thinking will continue to exist and requirements inherent to particular jobs in this profession will remain. By conducting ongoing critical inquiry within these environments, however, it is hoped these efforts will be useful in uncovering thought processes and subsequent hiring practices that have affected female representation in this profession.




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