June marked the 50th anniversary of the landmark federal law that prohibits gender discrimination. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
The law has been significant for women, and men, since its enactment as it has helped open doors, remove some barriers, and provide women with equitable opportunities in education and intercollegiate athletics. But inequalities still exist. There are still walls to climb, biases, and closed mindsets to tackle, and there are still nudges to get people past their fears to see a more diverse and equitable world. As a former saying goes, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” which is true when looking at some of the hiring and educational improvements. However, as reality settles in, we — women — still have a long way to go.
There are many celebrations that will take place into early 2023 in honor of Title IX, which was signed into law on June 23, 1972. Many of the celebrations will bring people together to recognize achievements of the past and present, while focusing on where things can move forward for the future. Colleges, universities, athletics conferences, and many other organizations will continue to host special tributes, which include honoring female trailblazers who set the pace for women who are leaders today, and who ultimately will be the role models for the women in line to be leaders of tomorrow.
The NCAA has a Title IX celebration campaign, which began with recognition at its annual convention in January and will culminate at its 2023 Women’s Final Four in April in Dallas. Title IX will be spotlighted at the NCAA Inclusion Forum, and there is also an educational tribute in the national office’s Hall of Champions museum in Indianapolis for the general public.
Slowly, but surely, positive strides have been made. Women have gained more participation opportunities in sports and the female student-athlete population across all NCAA divisions is more ethnically and racially diverse today. We’ve seen an increase in women’s representation in specific work positions, such as assistant athletics director, which may lead to a rise in senior roles in the future. Also, more women have attained the conference commissioner title. Reportedly, there were 44 women with conference commissioner titles in 2019-20, including five minority women. The number of minority student-athletes is also growing. Of the total participants in NCAA women’s sports, 32% are minority women.
However, don’t throw the confetti in the air so quickly. Since Title IX’s passing, the number of female head coaches and female athletics directors has declined. Since 1980, the number of female athletics directors has remained around 20, though the percentage of female athletics directors at all NCAA schools has risen 24% over the years. There is also more progress to be made for minority women’s representation in leadership roles in coaching, athletics administration, and athletics conference representation. In 2019-20, 16% of female head coaches of women’s teams and 16% of female athletics directors were minority women.
When I look at my career journey in college athletics, and even my work with other organizations, I do not recall many people, especially women, who looked like me in senior positions. That left me with a void when looking for mentors and supporters who understood what I was experiencing as a young female African American. Though some areas in athletics are witnessing slight improvements with hiring numbers, more work has to be done to elevate women into management roles where they can grow, continue to learn, mentor and keep the pipeline healthy.
Retention is a challenge. We cannot afford to lose women and minority voices in sports. Losing female perspectives does not improve the collegiate landscape. It does not help student-athletes, many of whom are women, and it ultimately hurts our collegiate enterprise, especially as the world is becoming more diverse.
Here’s a suggestion in athletics. Let’s start with more support and increased learning opportunities for senior woman administrators. The purpose of this designation is to promote meaningful representation of all women in leadership and management of college sport. It also works to involve women in senior- or executive-level decisions, including women in major projects in both men’s and women’s sports — nonrevenue and revenue-generating. Grow the SWA designation and continue to help all women excel.
A suggestion for all… women of color need to be heard and brought to the management and decision-making tables in sports. People see our ethnicity, but sometimes forget our gender as women too. We may have different experiences which could provide another level of diverse thoughts and considerations when making key choices around men’s or women’s sports, or any other major work effort. Leaders cannot afford to slip into cliquish practices. Everyone deserves to be heard and hopefully to have a seat, at some point, at the decision table.
Gail Dent is associate director of communications for the NCAA. This column was written using resources and data provided by the NCAA Office of Inclusion.
This article originally appeared in the June 23, 2022 edition of Diverse.