Women in sports! Lean in!

I have an exciting day ahead of me. I’m in Bergen! Some months ago, I was invited by the minister of culture and sports to a round-table debate concerning women in top positions within sports! You don’t say no to a minister! So, here I am!

Last year, I wrote a chronicle in a daily news paper in Norway. The theme was Women in sports – Lean in! I am reposting it today in English! Happy reading!

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Women In Sports! Lean In! (Published in Dagsavisen June 15, 2015)

The board of directors in The Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports has a good female representation, but the percentage of women in executive positions in sports politics is decreasing. The president of the Norwegian Football Association, stated in June 2015, that we must use gender quotas more. I do not believe that this is the only strategy. Organizations must facilitate the long-term development of both technical, administrative and political leaders. Perhaps those who have been in a top executive position for a “lifetime” should know when it is time to let go, and let others take over. Women must give themselves and other women support, and perhaps a kick in the butt.

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A personal story

A friend of mine recently contacted me, telling me that she was asked to take a position on the board of directors in a sports organization. The election committee representative told her that she was asked primarily because she was female, and that they had to fill the women’s quota. She is, in my opinion, very much qualified for the position, but the fact that they were required fill the women’s quota seemed more important than her qualifications.

For years, I have been interested in increasing the percentage of female leaders and being a role model myself, both in the world of sports and in my job as a partner in Deloitte.

During the 2000’s, The Norwegian Snowboard Federation conducted the project PowderPuff Girls. Three young sports leaders wanted more female leaders, judges, TD’s etc. The project was started on their own initiative. After the project had made some progress, the board was asked for support, and the association contributed by providing facilitation. The project was quickly recognized by the entire community, and received a lot of attention. The result was more women in various positions, such as several potential board members and one president.

In order to get more women into board and top executive positions, both women and the organization must facilitate. I do not have the solution, but I do have some thoughts and input.


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Organizations should:

  • Make sure that election committees have a diversity, when it comes to gender, age and ethnicity.
  • Plan long-term, and identify female leader talents early on. Facilitate and make sure that women are challenged in terms of tasks and roles. Women are often evaluated in terms of what they have achieved, while men are often evaluated in terms of what their potential is. Be aware of that, the next time you assess candidates!
  • Internal women projects should as far as possible be run by resources with a strong inner motivation, vs. board-decided top-down projects. The projects should involve both women and men. The project owner should be in the top management.
  • Show trust by facilitating for the projects, instead of managing and controlling, by giving economic support, assist with administration and communication.
  • Have an open dialogue about the top executives internally, administratively and politically. Today’s top executives should continuously consider whether it is time to step down. New and younger talents, both women and men, could be what is necessary to take the organization to the next level.

Women should:

  • Do not doubt your qualifications! The nomination committee has done this assessment, and there is a reason for why they asked you. Look around. It is not as if today’s top executives are superhuman.
  • Lean in! Ask someone to suggest you as a candidate, or do it yourself. Show your strengths and make yourself available. Update your CV on LinkedIn, register your name in board databases etc.
  • Promote yourself! Remember that the position is not secure even if the committee nominates you. Get influential people to support your candidacy. The reelected board member Marcela Bustos is a very good example of how to do the latter.
  • Set boundaries and delegate! Clearly state what your available time and prioritization is.
  • Be part of the top executive community! Use your relations to other top executives in order to receive advice and discuss matters.
  • Create your own leadership style! Do not attempt to copy your predecessor. Take advantage of the opportunity. Norwegian sports needs diversity, including the top executives.
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