This blog is part of the series “The power of the female athlete.” View the complete series at the links at the end of this article.
While there’s been progress in gender equality since the first modern Olympics in 1896, the Olympic movement remains dominantly male – it’s plain to see. At board level, only a third of the International Olympic Committee’s executive board members are female. Despite this figure, the IOC states that gender equality is a priority for them. This is clear through the committee’s decision to add more women’s events into the fold, which has increased the number of females participating. For the first time, the IOC also requested that all 206 National Olympic Committees (NOC) send at least one woman to compete.
But there are areas of the Olympics realm that haven’t made the same level of commitment. Back in February, we saw the head of Tokyo’s organising committee, Yoshiro Mori, step down because he made a remark that women talked too much. A press conference audience witnessed John Coats, Olympics chief for Australia and a VP of the IOC, demand Annastacia Palaszczuk to go to the opening ceremony.
Discrimination goes on today
Athletes suffer at the hands of traditional and outdated attitudes. This year there were disagreements around whether mothers could take breastfeeding infants with them as they compete. On top of this, women faced substandard resources at a national level. This lack of resource has been going on for years. Dame Katherine Grainger, a British former rower and current chair of UK Sport, has spoken out about this. Grainger explained in an interview with Women in Sport that in the past female athletes relied on jobs alongside their training or individual sponsors. Sponsorship naturally was focused on the successful athletes and also those who would be able to attract more media coverage. The media gave very little room to female sports and athletes. Therefore, sponsorship was a challenge.
Earlier this year, a group of female fencers pleaded for the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee to prevent Alen Hadzic from entering the Games. Their pleas were reactive to accounts of sexual assault. Something which Hadzic denies to this day. While he had to travel apart from his team, Hadzic was still allowed to compete.
This is when we start to notice double standards. Women and people of colour receive harsher judgement than other athletes. We have seen the fallout of this pressure with two female stars of the Games – Biles and Osaka. They have both spoken out about their struggles with mental health, Osaka pulled out of the French Open this year to focus on her wellbeing.
Change is a joint responsibility
The pressure that all sports stars face in a world dominated by social media is magnified for black women. For Biles this is on another level because she is a survivor calling US Gymnastics out publicly because it failed to inquire into coach Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse; something that came into the spotlight last year in the documentary Athlete A. The drive of both athletes to put mental health first, among heavy criticism, makes them even more inspiring role models.
The Olympics itself is not solely responsible for the pressures that female competitors face. Other sporting bodies are culprits too. Even broadcast companies, the media and fans get it wrong sometimes. Click To Tweet
For many women, the Olympics is a chance to celebrate other women’s bodies for their strength – and nothing else. But there’s another side to the coin. Research tells us that female athletes are still sexualised far too much in the media and amongst fans, all you need to do is a quick Google search to see this truth.
Over the years, female Olympians have almost caught up in terms of numbers. Now it’s time for the organisations involved in the Olympics, from broadcasters to spectators, to ensure more change happens and true equality is achieved at all levels. This is the same sentiment in the business world, across all industries.
Gender equality is crucial to the future of sports and business
Findings have been telling us for a while now that gender equality and parity in leadership have multiple benefits. For example, Mckinsey research reveals that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability.
Despite the endless studies proving the value of diversity in business, organisations have a long way to go. The statistics speak for themselves. In Australia, women are underrepresented in key decision-making roles across almost all industries in the workforce, with just 14.6% on boards. In the UK, women hold only 29.4% representation in FTSE 350 leadership teams and for women of colour, this is only 2.9%.
How one member of RingCentral’s board promotes gender equality
Mignon Clyburn, a member of RingCentral‘s board of directors, says it’s essential for women to advocate for themselves and ensure they are positioned to take on leadership roles.
That means you have to make it easy for people to recognise your talents in your field of interest. Maybe you can volunteer in the area or get involved in some other way, but it’s essential to pull up a seat at the table, be present, and engage.
“Things will not change if we continue to sit here and acknowledge the problem and not do other things proactively to make sure that our talents are there for the world to see,” Clyburn says. “We need to be in that space. We have to make sure that we are where the decision-makers are.”
Clyburn is no stranger to taking on important roles. She was a Commissioner of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from 2009 to 2018, and she was also its acting chair.
However, Clyburn says it’s imperative to have goals and timetables for gender equality when it comes to running a business. You can’t sit around and wait for things to happen.
“[Gender parity] will not happen if it’s not codified. If we do absolutely nothing, it will take 70 years for women to have parity on boards, commissions, the C-suites and the managerial workplace,” she says. “We need to be intentional about it.”
RingCentral benefits from gender equality
RingCentral employs many talented, ambitious and courageous women. The company views its diverse team as one of its biggest strengths. The company achieved a 100% ranking on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI).
Clyburn argues the company saw numerous benefits because of the way women working at RingCentral assert themselves in the workplace. This is also due to the support female employees receive from leadership and one another.
“All of these upticks we’re seeing (financially and with social governance) are because of women doing what it takes to ensure their presence will make a difference,” Clyburn says. “We all benefit.”
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Originally published Jul 30, 2021, updated Aug 10, 2021