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Women's sport: Creating a generation of entrepreneurs 📈

Much has been written about how the Lionesses' Euros success will inspire the next generation of female footballers. While this is important, the even more significant result may come away from the field, exposing women and girls to crucial development opportunities.

The sports industry and entrepreneurship share many commonalities.

Not least, they both have a gender problem.

Statista suggests that women make up only 30% of full-time employees working in the sports and fitness industry. A report by UENI has found a similar 70:30 gender distribution among entrepreneurs within the UK. And I would be confident figures would read similarly globally - at least in western culture.

Image: Bezos, Jobs, Zuckerberg, and Gates via ABS

Speaking on The Diary of A CEO podcast, best-selling author Simon Sinek discussed the issue as it relates to entrepreneurship.

“I have a female entrepreneur friend who has a theory that men make better entrepreneurs than women,” explains Sinek [1:25:30].

He is very clear to stress this is her theory, not his own, but that it does offer up an interesting discussion.

“[Her] logic is that when we're young, if you want to go to the prom [it is] generally the boy [who] asks the girl… This means from a young age, boys learn to muster up courage, take a risk, and get rejected. And then they have to do it again and again.”

This experience of “asking, taking a risk, facing rejection, being rejected and then trying again,” Sinek explains, “makes them [more] resilient entrepreneurs.”

Of course, traditional roles have reduced significantly and so this example is perhaps becoming less and less relevant.

Interestingly though, Sinek also points out that “We could argue that with online dating, everybody's losing the skill because you just swipe right [and never face that rejection head on].”

Having everything, including dating, at the tap of a button, is potentially leading to a “young generation that's less capable of dealing with stress than older generations as there are fewer opportunities to risk, reject, [and] have to try again.”

In order to enable a generation of entrepreneurs, “We should be asking both boys and girls to both have to learn to take risk as opposed to taking the risk away from everybody.”

Sporting Opportunity

This, I believe, is where sport has an incredible opportunity. Sport provides that equal opportunity to risk, reject, and try again. However, participation has traditionally trended more towards boys and men.

If we can provide more girls and women with opportunities to engage in sport, could we potentially help to close the entrepreneurial gap and increase female representation in the sports industry?

While it’s definitely a multifactorial issue (and this won’t solve it alone), it certainly wouldn’t be an entirely unfounded suggestion that it could help…

Professional services behemoth EY, for instance, recently concluded that “sport may be the best way for girls and young women to acquire [confidence and self-conviction].”

The results of their poll showed 90% of high-level female executives played sportwhen they were at school or university. And women at the very top level of management, including chief executives, chief financial officers and chief operating officers, were even more likely to have a sporty background.

In fact, 19 out of 20 women in the ‘C-suite’ (meaning their job title starts with the word chief) were athletic teenagers, while 70% of them still enjoyed playing sport in their spare time.

This is further supported by research from Visa, who found female entrepreneurs who play team sports were twice as likely to have reported company growth in the past two years. The study also suggested that 73% felt taking part in sports had had a positive impact on their business.

Of course, we see this playing out at the highest echelons of women’s professional sport, too.

Venus Williams, who has successfully transitioned from a tennis champion to a CEO recently exclaimed that,

"Sport is so much like business. It's all about strategy. And it's all about learning from losing. It's all about setting goals."

Former Olympic sprint canoer, Julia Rivard shared a similar sentiment in an interview with EY for their report. “You have to convince yourself that you can do it, even if you don’t know for sure that you can.”

“Being an entrepreneur,” she continues, “requires you to have a huge amount of confidence. Confidence is the number one success-maker.” Rivard argues that confidence can even compensate for severe failings. “You see leaders who shouldn’t be in the position they’re in, but they’ve been successful because they had no doubt they could make it happen.”

This context perhaps makes the recent news surrounding the start of the FA Women’s Super League all the more exciting and pertinent. Clubs have reported significant increased interest from fans following England’s Euro 2022 success. And this has begun to filter down to participation, too.

Much has been written about how this will help to inspire the next generation of female footballers. While this is important, I believe that the even more significant result comes away from the field.

This is about boosting participation in sport for women and girls and exposing them to crucial development opportunities. What is happening within women’s sport right now, and over the coming years, I believe, has a significant opportunity to help redress the disparity in female representation across our industry and give even more women the confidence to succeed in business.


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