A recent NCAA report showed that ethnic minority women make up only 1.6 percent of athletic directors at institutions involved in intercollegiate athletics at the Division I, II and III levels – including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Drop HBCUs from the equation and the rate falls under 1 percent.
While the NCAA has long advocated for change and greater representation for women and minorities in authority positions – such as athletic directors, head coaches and leadership positions at athletic conferences – the approach has changed since Charlotte Westerhaus was appointed vice president for diversity and inclusion in 2005. Prior to the Westerhaus appointment, the NCAA engaged its leadership in discussions. She changed the focus to the grassroots.
The most recent crucial step in the process took place at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis when the NCAA co-hosted the Women of Color Symposium with the Black Women in Sport Foundation (BWSF) earlier this month. Symposium participants are now working together to develop recommendations for attracting and retaining women of color in leadership positions throughout intercollegiate athletics, which will be distributed in late summer or early fall.
“We identified things like lack of mentoring, gender role expectations and tokenism,” Westerhaus said.
“We also talked about various social networks of power and how to change that. We are looking at research that’s not just demographics and counting heads. We want to be realistic and pragmatic, especially in these times with issues facing intercollegiate athletics,” she added.
Westerhaus was particularly pleased that this symposium included a broad range of women of color, including African-American, Asian and Hispanic women. She said it reflects the changing demographics and who is coming through the pipeline.
“We have to be the catalyst, because, if we don’t express how we feel and come up with some strategic plans to make people share power, then no one will,” said Tina Sloan Green, co-founder and president of the BWSF and the first African-American woman to coach Division I lacrosse.
Part of it is letting potential student-athletes of color and their families know how people of color figure in the leadership structure of institutions, according to Sloan Green. Women of color are well represented as coaches in the sports of women’s basketball and track and field, but their numbers are miniscule when it comes to sports like tennis, golf, fencing and lacrosse. Sloan Green said one suggestion is to start at the grassroots and get more girls of color to participate in these sports.
“Talent doesn’t have any color,” she said. “We need to start producing talent in our own communities.”
In the weeks since the symposium, the participants have continued to discuss and formulate the specific suggestions that will be presented to the Minority Opportunities Intercollegiate Athletics Committee (MOIC) of the NCAA. MOIC will look at the recommendations to determine what the next step ought to be within the NCAA governance structure. Sloan Green said a teleconference is scheduled for June 9 in which people who attended the symposium can discuss their ideas and further refine them.
“Now it’s about synthesizing it and strategically deciding what the recommendations will be and how we will present those recommendations as a collective body,” she said.
Among the ideas she noted was developing a database with information about people who are interested in and qualified for leadership positions so no institution can say it could not find the talent. She also said dialogue with college presidents and athletic directors must be initiated.
“Women of color have to reach out to women and men of integrity and ethics, regardless of their race, and ask or aggressively seek their help with career development,” Westerhaus said.
Westerhaus noted three things she thinks will be among the final recommendations:
1) Enhance the number of women of color in every possible way. Possibly call for a legislative mandate that more women of color need to be in senior women’s athletic administrator positions. This will bring more women of color into the governance of the NCAA.
2) A call for diversity among women of color, not focusing solely on African-American women but on all women of color.
3) A call for enhanced discussion with Title IX advocates regarding the positive effects Title IX can have for women of color. When adding new sports within the NCAA, try to make sure these are sports with a diverse range of participants.
When the recommendations are finalized, they will be available at
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