On the Forefront: Q&A with Patti Phillips
National organizations and laws like Title IX have opened numerous doors for women in sports, but are they getting the opportunities they deserve?
Patti Phillips, chief executive officer for the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, has spent most of her career empowering women and giving them the confidence to pursue leadership position with athletic programs. She recently spoke with Coach and Athletic Director about the challenges women face and what’s expected to change in the coming years.Many women have had success in sports, but they’re still not getting as many opportunities as men. Why is that?
What we’ve seen with administrators is we are getting some opportunities and we are making strides. The number of women hired into leadership positions has gone up drastically in the last three years, but when you look at the overall numbers, the percentage points aren’t moving much.
When you ask why we aren’t getting more opportunities, I think it’s a bigger question, a cultural question. What’s happening in athletics is exactly what you see in corporate America. There are strides being made, there are advances, they’re just not overwhelming.
We actually have a lot of women in the midlevel of their careers that have the type of experience you need to lead in today’s day and age of athletics. I think in the next five to 10 years, we’re going to see that bigger numbers shift that we’re all waiting on.
Is instilling confidence in women key to their advancement?
I think it’s huge for men and women. There is research that shows when a job description comes out, 90 percent of women don’t apply because they don’t have every single qualification, and guys will apply if they have one or two things. That is a gender issue we have to deal with, and confidence is something we talk about quite a bit.
Sometimes, women are not really showing up in the interviews with the confidence they need. What we know is that confidence can be learned and earned, we can grow our confidence.
What are some of the NACWAA’s initiatives to advance and empower women?
We actually have too many to list here. One we have is an advancement initiative, and that focuses on women that want to advance to leadership positions — an AD or commissioner at any level. What we’ve done is created a candidate list, and when search firms reach out to us we have a whole list of women that have either self-identified as wanting to advance or have been nominated. With that list we send out specific emails that list every open job at any level every two weeks, who is doing the search, what the deadlines are, etc. So they’re getting opportunities pushed out to them.
Another is this whole layered programming that we have addressing women at every level of their careers at every facet. Not every woman wants to be an AD or commissioner, and that’s fine. We want them in the business of sports and in intercollege athletics. We help them find their niche and we want them to be the best they can be.
Is the environment a lot better for female coaches today than it was 10, 20 years ago?
I think it depends on who you ask. There are some coaches you ask today who would say, “no way.” I think that question is subjective, it depends on where you are. In some places it has been phenomenal, what they’ve done for women sports. In others, I hear horror stories every day. I get both ends of the spectrum.
I do think there has been a lot more participation opportunities, but that’s only one piece of the Title IX pie. It’s about marketing, coaching salaries, equal access. There’s a whole spectrum of people that can tell you about the pros and cons of that.
Over the past five years, girls participation in high school sports is up 3 percent compared to 1.6 percent with boys. Is that meaningful?
I definitely think it’s meaningful. Any increase in participation shows a lot, it shows interest. There are more role models now, there are more opportunities and different sports. For years, girls didn’t have the opportunity to try all the different sports.
And you have to see role models doing it. We need to see women participating at a high level so girls can aspire to do those things. The Olympics are huge when they’re televised, and any time you can see women participating at a high level, that’s important and I think that goes to these participation numbers.
Is Title IX as good as it can be or are changes needed?
That’s a tough question. I can tell you, theoretically, I think it’s been great. It has provided so many opportunities, but the problem has been that it’s only casually enforced, and it’s a law. Now that the (Office for Civil Rights) is getting more involved and holding peoples’ feet to the fire, I think that’s helpful. People need to be held accountable, just like all the other laws we have.
There are naysayers with everything, and we’ve been through the whole thing with wrestling programs, the wrestlers are the ones that hate Title IX and say it’s anti-wrestling. It’s not. It’s the people running the department who are making choices about how monies are spent. It’s not that the law is bad, it’s the enforcement of it and the interpretation of it that I think is bad.