Australian researchers are investigating how gender stereotypes can make female sports coaches feel like “imposters” and cost them elite jobs. Funded by the International Olympic Committee, the University of Newcastle in New South Wales study will investigate why women made up only 11% of accredited coaches at the Rio Games in 2016.
Researchers in Australia believe that, in general, sports have a culture that marginalizes female coaches. It enforces stereotypes and can be corrosive, causing talented individuals to doubt their skills and themselves. Previous research has found that women appointed to high-level coaching positions have been derided by media and fans.
Heather Douglas, a psychology lecturer at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, is working on the study to help the International Olympic Committee increase the number of women in elite coaching positions.
She said it is a problem that goes far beyond professional sports.
“This feeling of inauthenticity comes along with a fear of failure and of being exposed as a fraud,” Douglas said. “Imposter feelings are created by being in a situation where we think we do not deserve to be. This could be a woman in sport, in science or in engineering. It could be an ethnic minority student at university or even a man in nursing. Imposter feelings often come along with depression and anxiety. In workplace settings, it has been associated with hesitant career planning, impaired job performance, lower job satisfaction and a higher incidence of workplace burnout.”
The Australian research first will involve participants in community sports, then high-performance Olympic-level female coaches from all continents. The aim is to determine the factors causing women to leave coaching.
Australia has done much to encourage women and girls to participate in sports.
Rugby, cricket and Australian Rules Football all have successful elite competitions for women. Arguably, the Matildas, the national women’s soccer team, are the most popular athletes in Australia, which will co-host the 2023 World Cup with New Zealand.
Female sport may be booming, but attitudes in sections of society have not caught up. Women appointed as referees in men’s football and rugby matches here complain of sexism and online trolling.
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