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The gender battle in the CIS

By in Features

The Carillon (University of Regina)

CIS Gender Gap

REGINA (CUP) — Of the 480 head coaches in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, a staggering 408 are male.

The stat comes from an unofficial report conducted by the CIS and released Jan. 25. The league looked at staff directories from all 54 universities in the CIS roster.

While most people would say the dramatic disparity speaks for itself, and that the issue of gender inequality at university-level coaching positions is black and white, not everyone feels the same way.

“I would not agree with the statement that there is gender inequality in coaching positions at the CIS level,” said Tom Huisman, director of operations and development for the CIS. “That might be equivalent to saying there is gender inequality in elementary school teacher positions. It might be a bit misleading of a statement.”

However, statistics don’t lie, and the disparities are even more glaring among male teams. According to the same report, of the 72 coaching positions held by women in CIS, there are only two female head coaches of men’s sports teams.

Still, people are skeptical.

“I don’t know if I can qualify it as an issue,” said CIS Communications Manager Michel Belanger. “However, looking at numbers, it’s hard to argue that there is, indeed, an inequality between the number of male and female head coaches in CIS.”

Why the inequality?

With just 15 per cent of head coaching positions currently held by females in the CIS, there have been many hypotheses as to why the statistics are so low. One common conception is that female candidates are simply not as qualified to coach at the university level as men are.

“Do women have an equal opportunity to those coaching positions? I believe the answer is yes,” Huisman said. “Are there equal numbers of qualified female candidates applying for CIS coaching positions as men? I believe the answer is no.”

Although there are no rules that discourage women from applying for university coaching positions, Larena Hoeber, a kinesiology professor at the University of Regina, believes that there are a variety of reasons for the deflated presence of female coaches at the university level.

“Part of it is about gender ideas about leadership,” Hoeber said. “Part of it is assumptions about who is more qualified and recognizing the assumption that, although I don’t necessarily agree with this, but the assumption that men would have more opportunities to be involved in sport and be more knowledgeable technically.”

When the University of Regina men’s hockey team was hiring a new head coach last spring, not one of the 36 applicants were women.

Even if a woman were to have applied for the position, while theoretically she would have been considered, the odds of her actually securing that job were unfortunately slim.

“In reality, there is no female that I know [who] is working at a high enough level to get that position,” said Dick White, athletics director at the U of R and member of the coaching search committee for men’s hockey.

Hoeber said that any time a university decides to select a female to be the head coach of a men’s team, both the school and the new coach have to be prepared for backlash. She believes this may keep women from even applying for coaching positions in the first place.

“I think that in some cases, I don’t know how many women feel like putting their name in the hat for that,” she said. “So, not to say that they’re not interested in coaching, but I think there is a self-selection going on beforehand to say, ‘It’s not worth it,’ or ‘I won’t get it.’ ”

Hoeber says not only do knowledge, experience and self-doubt play a role in the coaching selection process, but gender roles may also be a determining factor during hiring.

“Clearly there is also an issue about the domestic responsibilities, and how it is very difficult if you are female and taking on a leadership role,” she said, adding that practices often create time conflictions for women with children.

Hoeber said that, while it is not always the case, men are more likely to have someone else in the family who takes care of any children they may have. That means it is an easier decision for men to apply for time-intensive coaching positions.

Huisman, who has been admittedly critical about the suggested issue of gender inequality, has his own ideas on what distinguishes male and female applicants during the hiring process.

“Rather than view the issue strictly on the basis of the current coaching demographic, which would be a fairly narrow view, one must also look at the pool of candidates available,” he said. “Much work and research on this has been conducted by groups like the Coaching Association of Canada.”

The research, Huisman said, looked at “the demands and requirements of being a professional coach, which can explain some of the disparity in the number of female coaches relative to male coaches.”

Attracting more female coaches

While no one seems to agree on the specific cause for such drastic disparity between male and female coaches, it should come as no surprise that everyone has different ideas when it comes to attracting and recruiting more females to university coaching positions.

For White, the solution begins with increasing female qualifications.

“It starts in the developmental process, not at the highest level,” said White, who served as the CIS president from 2007-09. “One of our biggest problems that we have at the CIS level, and I have experienced it [at the U of R] as well, is that if we post a position for a women’s team, we don’t get anywhere near enough qualified female applicants.”

White believes one solution may be to place a greater emphasis on developing females at the assistant coach level so they gain valuable experience and eventually compete with men who apply for the same positions.

“Our female athletes have made it very clear to us that they want us to hire the best and most qualified coach available, male or female,” White continued. “We have had many good women’s coaches, but there is really a lack of qualified applicants as far as experience when it comes to hiring for a women’s team. We need to create more qualified women.”

Hoeber also suggests that speaking with current athletes and implementing the possibility of future coaching positions early on can help minimize the discrepancies over time. However, while this may be a step in the right direction, it’s not a perfect plan.

“Sometimes, part of the problem is that we tell male students or athletes to think about [coaching], but I don’t think they do that as much with female athletes,” she said. “There is a women in coaching program set up through the National Coaching Association to try and get more women to be mentored by other coaches, there are things out there, but at the local level it is challenging.”

Even with increases in female qualifications and coaching programs, Hoeber is skeptical that the results would be anything significant.

“I don’t think it would make a massive difference because I still think if a female thought about going into coaching, she is still going to face” issues, Hoeber said. A female candidate may feel she isn’t qualified enough, and may ask herself “is she going to be accepted” or will she have “to make tough decisions about kids.”

Change is “coming, but it is not massive changes,” Hoeber said. “In coaching we don’t have a lot of visible, high profile women in those positions.”

Some people, including Huisman, still believe that regardless of the statistics, the CIS is a place where gender equality is encouraged. But when the numbers are separated by such extreme amounts, unless something drastic is done, the possibility for future changes in coaching positions looks grim.

“I believe CIS institutions are among the leaders in Canada for providing support and employment opportunities for female coaches,” Huisman said. “Can CIS as a collective do more in that regard? In this and many other areas, the answer is yes.”

Illustration: Samantha Braun

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