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ESSA looks to achieve gender equality in high performance sport

ESSA looks to achieve gender equality in high performance sport
November 8, 2023

Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) has today highlighted that while gender equality progress in Australian sport is evident on the field, a shortage of women in high performance coaching roles emphasises the urgent need for a more inclusive game plan.

Pointing out that Australia's sports landscape lacks gender diversity and inclusivity, ESSA paints a bleak outlook for the lead-up to the 2032 Olympic Games without urgent support, recognition and career progression, urging sports entities to embrace gender diversity in leadership, calling for expanded opportunities for female students in sports science, exercise physiology, and high-performance fields to address the balance demanded by women's sports.

As a female high performance practitioner with A-League club Perth Glory, Carmen Colomer is aware that she is among the minority in Australia, especially one working for a men’s elite sporting team.

Colomer explains “with over a decade of experience in professional men’s sports, my journey began as a sports scientist and has evolved to my current role as the Head of Performance.

“Throughout my career I have witnessed the under representation of women in sports, leading to a lack of visible role models for aspiring female Accredited Exercise Physiologists.

“During my pregnancy and postpartum journey, I encountered a scarcity of women in my position who I could look up to and seek guidance from.

“The reality is that there are very few, if any, women in similar roles (with women) deterred by the prospect of working in high performance sport because current environments don’t foster a variety of coaching styles with diverse gender identities. There are also concerns like I faced that working in sports means sacrificing their desire to have a family with concerns when they take maternity leave about professional relevance and replaceability.” 

Colomer notes that she is fortunate to work for an organisation that challenged the ‘status quo’ and recognised the benefit of coach and leader gender diversity.

Workforce data
ESSA’s current workforce data by ESSA reveals that only 24% of Accredited Sports Scientists and high performance managers are women.

ESSA also points to The International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching 2023 report ‘The under representation of women coaches in high-performance sport’, which states that despite the identified decline of women coach numbers three decades ago, very little has changed.

The review states that over 30 years ago, female coach numbers and proportions were declining relative to the growing participation of female athletes.

Yet little has changed in proportional representation of women in high performance sport. In fact, the International Olympic Committee recently found the proportion of women coaches at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had only increased by 2% from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games to 13% of all coaches.

In football, the statistics are worse; it has been reported that only 7% of FIFA coaches are women. This contrasts with gains in diversity and equality made in most other professions over the past two decades.

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