Women Gain Ground in Sports Information Careers
By Claire Fischer & Dr. Peter Titlebaum
Title IX brought about a sense of inclusion for women in sport, even though the law was mostly intended to affect the education realm. We have seen more women enter the sports industry through careers in marketing, events, communications, ticketing and others areas. While women have gained ground in the sports employment market, there are still areas with holes. Through our research, we identified that women sports information directors that work with Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams are underrepresented.
As of June 2017, there were 129 schools that competed at the FBS level in football. Of that, 30 of (23.26 percent) employed a woman sports information director who dealt with football as a primary or secondary contact. A primary contact is someone who handles the day-to-day tasks for a particular team within the athletic department; this is the go-to person for the media to contact, the expert on all issues dealing with that particular team. A secondary contact is someone who aids the primary contact as needed. Interestingly, all 11 conferences at the Division I level represented themselves as having a woman who was a contact for the football program. Of the 29 Power 5 conference schools, only 11 schools (37.93 percent) had a female football contact.
Of the 30 total women working as a football contact at the Division I level, there were 15 primary contacts and 15 secondary contacts. While these numbers were split evenly at the responsibility level, we aimed to take a closer look at the regions in which women were more likely to work as a football contact. Using the information gathered, we marked on a map of the United States where there was a female football contact, whether primary or secondary. The western part of the country lacks female sports information directors who work with football. However, the upper Midwest and East Coast both show a high number of female football contacts when compared to other regions of the country.
Historically, athletic departments were split into women's sports and men's sports, and women worked in the women's department, and men worked in the men's department. As the transition to a binary athletic department has evolved, there has not been much crossover for women working with men's sports. It is also important to note that the primary football contact is often the most talented, head of the communications department. As women have families and struggle to balance family and work life, they tend to exit the field or take a step back, making it even harder for women to work as a football contact.
It can be argued that there are discriminatory issues when it comes to these numbers. Yet, after interviewing multiple people in the industry who work in collegiate sports information, other reasons come to light. One of these reasons is budgeting. Football teams and coaches are typically all male. Sports information directors will room with a member of the staff on road trips. That being said, females cannot stay in a hotel room with a male staff member, calling for the expense of an extra hotel room for just one person. Secondly, many women are not interested in being the football contact. This position takes a lot of commitment and the contact is always on-call and under the media's microscope. Some female sports information directors prefer to work with sports they have played or prefer to work with women's athletic programs to promote the success that women teams have.
The most relevant research to this topic is about the lack of emergence of women athletic directors at the Division1 level. Linda Jean Carpenter has been studying this and has concluded that football is the major factor for this issue.
As she stated in "Female Athletic Directors: A Scarce But Positive Influence Favorite," by Alexandra Vollman in Insight Into Diversity (Feb. 15, 2016), "In Division I, you have big-time sports, and that includes big-time football," she said. "… The structure of athletics is different [at these schools], the power that it wields on campus is different, and the closeness that it is tied to the male psyche is a little bit different in Division I than it is in Division III. I think the hiring authority in big-time Division I schools assumes that a woman cannot understand football and therefore would not make a good administrator, and yet there are some good examples [where] they are wrong."
This concept can be converted into the sports information department. This is because when working as the primary football contact, you are telling the story of the football game through visuals, such as graphics and video, but also through writing and statistics. Football contacts have to be able to speak knowledgably to the media about the team's performance in addition to establishing a relationship with the coaching staff. Being able to converse with the coaching staff about the success of the program is important in forging a solid working relationship.
Positively, the role of women mentoring up and coming women in the industry has gained publicity. As Olivia Coiro, assistant director of athletic communications at Syracuse University explained in "Female Mentorship" in Sparkle and Sports (March 23, 2018), "As women in this male-dominated industry, it is our duty to inspire and encourage others to forge their own path. Take time out of your day to sit and talk with a young student, whether they seem interested in what you do or not, and ask them questions about their own goals."
This is important because as more women mentor female students and young female employees, there are real-life examples for the younger women to see that there is a way to achieve work-life balance and continue to climb the ladder to one's goals.
Overall, the numbers have increased over time, but there is hope these numbers will continue to grow as women to pursue careers in sports information. Through mentorship, exposure in the workplace is positively changing attitudes about women, specifically as relating to positions once thought only for men. While the numbers have shown positive growth in women becoming schools contacts for football, the hope is that some of the perennial football powerhouses take notice and make sure they look at all qualified candidates regardless of gender when positions become available.
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