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October 2, 2009 • Athletic Administration

The Dearth of Women Athletic Directors

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An old friend who has been involved with athletics his entire adult life recently made an observation to me that proved he was not involved as much as he should have been about a questions asked of him:

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“Why aren’t more women serving as athletic directors? Shouldn’t there be?”

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Certainly, there should be. Title IX has been around a long time, a lot of good things have happened to women in a lot of sports. Why the problem in the administration field?

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For starters, you could mention that female coaches see the enormous time commitment of athletic directors and do not want to sacrifice their family life.

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The business sector certainly offers better salaries, or maybe no one has really pointed out that life in the kitchen is a non-paying job.

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While some men have become enlightened and help with the household chores, and the family unit has certainly changed, most women are still the primary care giver and CEO of the family.

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My wife, for example, has single-handedly raised our two children. With my schedule and responsibilities, I wasn’t home enough. Most weeks, I was at games during the evenings and often in school on Saturday.

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On Sundays and holidays, she would prime the kids and point out, “Hey, kids, that’s Dad!”

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My wife attended all of our children’s games, regional band practices, trips to the doctor and dentist. Obviously, she cooked the meals, helped with the homework and called the repairman when something needed fixing around the house. All of this takes a lot of time and energy.

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In our area of Maryland, many coaches earn more than an athletic director does during his particular season. For example, our JV girls’ basketball coach earns more than I do. She loves her relationship with the kids and has fun coaching and interacting.

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The players keep her young. The coach sees, for example, the paperwork and headaches that I have to handle as the AD, and then there is also the issue of the money. Why would she want to become an athletic director?

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Interestingly, we have many more female principals and assistant principals in Baltimore County than we have athletic directors. Why wouldn’t the school administrators hire more female AD’s?

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To be sure I wasn’t missing anything, I contacted four women from around the country who are currently involved with athletics on the high school level. Kim Chorosiewski works in Massachusetts, Kate Dresher in Ohio, Diane Shuck in Colorado, and Jeannette Bruno in New Jersey. All were kind enough to offer their insight.

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The central questions of why we don’t we have more female athletic directors and what can be done to hire more were posed to these four successful women, and following are some of their responses.

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Some parents, athletes and even administrators may not feel that a woman can do the job as well as a man. Perhaps the playing or coaching experience is considered more extensive and valuable for males than for females, offered Kate Dresher. While this may be a stereotypical explanation, it may exist. Furthermore, male candidates for private school positions might even be able to negotiate higher salaries.

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While the selection of a candidate should come down to the leadership and managerial abilities that he or she can bring to the position, it may still come down to the candidacy of the former football coach.

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In addition, both Kate and Kim Chorosiewski admit that while a preference for a male candidate may not always be fair, women may have to work a little harder to project competency. Once in the position, however, it is all about doing the job.

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Kim pointed out that candidates for AD positions come from a pool of coaches – a group that is still dominated by men. Ergo, the possibility that significantly fewer women are even considering a move into administrative positions.

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Also, our society may impose stereotypes: “strong” female leader may be considered overbearing and a quiet one viewed as “weak.”

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However, both Diane Shuck and Jeannette Bruno don’t necessarily believe that gender is the central issue in the hiring of an athletic director. They both contend that the position should go to the most prepared and best candidate – woman or man. Therefore, anyone who wants to enter the field of athletic administration should develop competency in leadership and managerial skills.

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Jeannette did add that if more women could enter the athletic administrative field, it would be good for our athletes to have positive female role models.

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When the topic moved to business sector salaries, Diane made a great point. A career in athletic administration can actually benefit family life. You get every major holiday off, 10-14 days in December around the holidays and 6-10 weeks during the summer. Also, an AD’s children can attend practice sessions and games at the high school and become involved with positive student-athlete role models.

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“What more would you want as a mother?” proclaimed Diane.

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The following suggestions may provide some practical ideas of what can be done to encourage more women to enter athletic administration on the high school level.

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1. Encourage mentor coaches and former athletes to consider the possibility of a career in athletic administration. This means covering all of the aspects of the position and promoting professional development activities that could develop credentials and prepare the winner for a position in athletic administration.

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We also need to encourage outstanding female coaches to apply for vacant positions when they become available. Serving as an intern on the high school level would be valuable, according to Kate. It would enable interested women to gain experience and build their credentials.

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2. Educate principals and superintendents on the fact that women are equally capable and deserve a shot at an athletic director’s position.

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Leadership skills and managing an athletic program are not male only traits. With an increasing number of women principals and superintendents, this doesn’t have to be an insurmountable challenge.

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This educational approach may best be entrusted to a state’s athletic directors association. The association could prepare positional papers and write articles for the various publications that principals receive and read.

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Kate also suggested that professional associations might offer conferences specifically designed and directed toward women who may aspire to move into an athletic administrative position.

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3. Locate successful women who are currently athletic administrators to serve as role models. Every state has them! In Maryland, for example, the Executive Director of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association is an extremely capable and accomplished woman, and the Director of Athletics at the University of Maryland is Kay Yow, who is nationally recognized for her accomplishments and abilities.

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More than likely, such individuals would be more than willing to answer questions on their career journey and provide some helpful hints.

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4. Provide better salaries and support personnel in order to make the job less time-intensive and more manageable. Of course, male athletic directors could also benefit from these efforts.

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There are times that athletic management can be absolutely overwhelming, and drive quality individuals out of the profession. Every effort must be made to attract quality applicants.

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Why consider a position in athletic administration? Diane Shuck provided a good counterpoint to the salary issue from a Successories Card: “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove … but my existence did make the world more important because I was important in the life of a child.”

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One of Kim Chorosiewski’s concluding comments may have best summed up the challenge women face in athletic administration:

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“It doesn’t really matter what you’ve done to build credentials, but what you do on a daily basis to perform in the position that matters. Women may need a crow bar to get into the door of athletic leadership, but it is well worth the extra sweat equity!”

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Of course, the hesitancy to become an AD may not totally be a gender issue. There are also male coaches who earn more than I do and love what they are doing. Both men and women in our program often chide me, “You are crazy to do what you do.”

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However, the consensus is that if you have a passion for athletics and high energy, you can, by mixing in some managerial skills and leadership ability, be successful as an athletic director.

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We just have to keep getting that message out to women – that athletic administration is important and rewarding – and then encourage them to develop credentials and to apply for vacancies.


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