TORONTO – A step in the right direction, but still a drop in the bucket. Laval University professor Guylaine Demers applauded the recent hirings of Hayley Wickenheiser and Tamara Tatham by Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Ltd., but points out the face on the sidelines or in the boardrooms of sports organizations remains predominantly male.
“It becomes big news because it is exceptional, it is unusual, especially women who are chosen to be part of men’s sport,” Demers said. “This becomes ‘Oh my god, this is unbelievable.’
“But the other way around, of course, it’s just normal, to have a man in charge of our women’s national teams. Oh yes. Sure. Normal. The usual.”
Demers is among a 12-member working group looking to change that in Canada.
Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, announced a working group on gender equity in sports in April, that includes Wickenheiser, retired paddler and Olympic gold medallist Adam van Koeverden, and retired water polo player and activist Waneek Horn-Miller.
The four areas of discussion are girls and women’s participation in sport, women in leadership roles, gender-based violence in sports, and how women’s sports are portrayed in the media.
The 2018 federal budget included a commitment of $30 million over three years to support data and research to achieve gender equity in sports.
Demers said the biggest barriers can be found at the organizational level, where the people making decisions are predominantly male.
“Let’s say there’s an organization that has one woman on their board, and 10 men. And I would ask ‘Well, why is that?’ If they recruit in their own circle, of course they’re going to recruit the same people. They’ll look me in my eyes and say ‘Really, we cannot find any women.’ OK, where did you look? Well, in my backyard.
“That’s why we really need to work with those organizations to understand how they’re working or who’s making the decisions.”’
Bruce Kidd, a scholar, activist and former distance runner who competed at the 1964 Olympics, said there’s plenty of research to support the notion that more diversity leads to better decision making.
“People from different backgrounds bring different insights, perspectives, and so the deliberations, the policy, the implementation is way more effective as a result,” said Kidd, who’s a member of the working group.
Demers said too often talented women in leadership roles leave because of hostile working environments.
“Yes, we do have great women, super competent, but when they get into the sport system, many times the experience they are going through is very negative. So they quit,” she said. “First, you have to get into the system, and then once they’re there, you have to survive in the system, and those two steps are related to the organizations.”
Duncan has asked the group to be “bold” with their recommendations, Demers said.
“She wants to make sure that what she will support will have a real impact, a long-term impact, and will impact as many people as possible,” she said. “This is our mandate, to anticipate what is happening, and these are the areas where we think you should put the money to change the system.”