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Where You Might Find your Next Leader
Sometimes the solutions we’re searching for are right in front of us, hiding in plain sight.
In the summer of 2022, we celebrated the importance of the U.S. Education Act of 1972’s Title IX sports-and-education provisions in building the foundations for the rise of women’s sports. And we rolled up our sleeves, for there’s still work to be done to achieve greater equality, no matter how helpful the potent mix of sport and education can be. But lost in the shuffle was the conversation about women in sports, namely: the lack of female executives at the helm of international governing bodies and the global sports industry. While every effort should be made to promote qualified individuals, the hidden secret is that thanks to Title IX’s global ripple effect, there is already a strong and growing constellation of female executives who are well-trained and equipped to serve as your next leader(s).
The noticeable lack of female leadership in international sports federations, governing bodies, and industry organizations is nothing new. At the end of 2016, women held just five out of 70 international sports federations and 19% of executive leadership positions. That’s perhaps a slightly better number than their representation within the industry at large, where just 3.4% of CEOs worldwide are women. In 2020, 36.7% of International Olympic Committee (IOC) commissions were chaired by women. This is an improvement but obscures the staggeringly small percentage of women who lead the global sports movement and the industry that underpins it today.
A lack of female leadership has deeper repercussions than the cosmetic makeup of executive boards. Equal representation is necessary so that the range of perspectives and experiences that diverse, inclusive voices bring to the table can better inform the decision-making processes.
It’s a phenomenon that Big East Conference Commissioner Val Ackerman observes regularly. The former president of USA Basketball (2005-08) felt pride and a responsibility to represent when she sat on the FIBA Central Board for eight years (2006-14). “I knew that people were looking up to the USA in the sport of basketball,” she said. But she was often one of the few female voices in the governance process.
Too often, those in the boardrooms claim that there is a lack of qualified women available for such positions. But that’s just not true.
That’s because one of the unexpected consequences of Title IX is its global ripple effect. This landmark legislation pushed the United States toward equalizing women’s rights. It also laid the foundation for generations of women across the globe to benefit from the beauty and power of sport as they, too, have benefitted from its education and leadership opportunities.
That’s why, unexpectedly, you might find your next leader in this globalized world standing on a football pitch or basketball court in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Ecuador, or some other place you never dreamed of considering.
Since its 2012 foundation, the UT Center for Sport, Peace & Society (CSPS) has worked to empower leaders across the planet. We are a social enterprise committed to creating a more peaceful, equitable, and inclusive world through sport-based innovation and education. We help equip global leaders with the tools needed to make a positive difference in their communities, from grassroots levels to governance. We spark social progress, locally and abroad, through leadership programs, international outreach, storytelling projects, and scholarly research, all in pursuit of global solidarity.
Our guiding philosophy is that of empowerment for social impact. It’s a grounded theory based on more than 30 years of experience in international sports programming with nearly 15,000 women, men, youth, and refugees from more than 121 countries. It’s firmly founded in action-based, qualitative research.
And it’s a theory based on our dedication to building a people-centric culture from a leadership perspective. Our work connects people to one another, building community and demonstrating how we are interconnected in working towards the same goal together. Humility and elevating others are our philosophical cornerstones and taken as a whole, we’ve produced a movement that attracts people and partners who are just as excited about working with us as we are about working with them. Reciprocity and mission alignment - it’s real - not just fancy speak.
It’s through our partnerships, including with the U.S. Department of State, ESPN, Saatchi & Saatchi, New Balance, the Big East Conference, the National Hockey League, and the International Paralympic Committee, among others, that we fully realize that social change is a team sport. Each entity brings something unique (people, experiences, resources, etc.) and together, we are greater than the sum of our individual parts.
For ten years, we’ve worked to share with our international sisters the benefits and beauty of sport and education, perpetuating Title IX’s ripple effects and equipping the next generation of leaders. And we’re not done yet.
There’s still much work to do, both in the United States as well as worldwide, but don’t underestimate the power of individuals to affect change. That’s why we invite you to join us in advocating for a global Title IX, one that can help push us towards greater equality for all through the tools of sport and education.
And we aren’t alone in putting this idea forward. “We need a campaign for a global Title IX that requires equitable resources so that educational opportunities are made available and women and girls have a chance to play sports,” Ackerman said. “This would help women sit more generally in society because sports and women and societal advancement are all linked.”
We invite you to purchase your own copy of Strong Women. Better World: Title IX’s Global Effect, join us on social media (@SportandPeaceUT), and add to the conversation. Together we can push the needle further. 100% of all sales go to support our grant-making project to support women and girls in sports globally.
Every story has a hero, every hero has a superpower, and when used with intentionality, sport is an incredible superpower in the fight for gender equity.