Yesterday, GreenSportsBlog named “Women, The Engines of Green-Sports” as the Best Story of 2019.
Today, GSB is giving the floor to women from various corners of the sports greening movement to get their takes on a number of issues, including why women have found success in what are still the early days of the Green-Sports niche, what unique challenges they may face, and more.
Julia Pallé, President, Sport & Sustainability International (SandSI); Senior Sustainability Consultant, Formula E
The glass ceiling is breaking for women in Green-Sports…
I was trained in sustainability ten years ago when it was a relatively new specialty. At that time — and this is a generalization, of course — the empathy of women was seen as a positive and this enabled them to advance faster to more highly visible roles with greater levels of responsibility than they might have in other industries.
Perhaps because the field was new and open, I was fortunate to not have to face roadblocks in moving from sustainability to sports sustainability.
Hopefully this means that, in this niche at least, the glass ceiling is breaking — and in some cases is non-existent, which is a great thing.
Jennifer Regan, Event & Sustainability Director, r.Cup
Women have a different approach to problem solving than men; that may be a reason they gravitate to sustainability, in sports and beyond…
What types of jobs have women who work for sports teams taken on? Human resources, philanthropy, and…sustainability. ‘Softer’ jobs than the male dominated business development, operations, and finance roles.
Why? Let’s look, in broad strokes, at the different ways women approach solving problems as opposed to men.
Women tend to use more holistic, complex problem solving styles than men. They also tend to consider more options for potential solutions. This could be a reason they are drawn to and/or are slotted by management at sports organizations for the softer jobs. There is some stereotyping going on here but it’s also a way for women to get an ‘in’ into sports.
Men, on the other hand, tend to try to solve problems in a more direct, penetrating, quick fashion, which may be a factor driving them towards the ‘harder’ jobs.
I’ve noticed that, since sustainability is a relatively new job function in sports — hey, this didn’t exist in 2008! — and the departments are often small, there is more room for smart professional women, who have drive and talent, to go beyond what’s been done before, create something new and make visible changes — which is a good thing.
Madeleine “Maddy” Orr, Co-Director of the Sport Ecology Group and Assistant Professor of Sport Management at SUNY Cortland
The marriage of Women and Green-Sports is also a match of growing supply with demand…
Well, let’s start off with this: Studies consistently show that women are slightly more interested in the climate change than men. And then if you look at who’s studying sustainability in college, it’s a discipline that’s very much dominated by women. The Bard MBA for example is 60 percent women, which is the opposite gender composition of other MBA programs, on average. So, there’s a significant supply of women who want to work in business sustainability, or in this case, sport sustainability. If you look at who is registering for sport sustainability courses specifically, the same trend appears.
Now, let’s look at sports organizations. If you scroll through lists of front office staff, you’ll notice women tend to work in a few departments. Marketing, communications, legal, various administrative roles, and community relations or corporate social responsibility (CSR). And, unfortunately, sustainability roles aren’t pervasive and spread out across departments yet. They tend to reside in outreach or CSR departments.
So, on one level, this is a match between supply — women who want to work in sport sustainability — and demand. And these women often do great work, outperforming their roles, taking lemons and making lemonade by helping their organizations make significant improvements on a myriad of sustainability metrics.
Yet women are not often given the opportunity to shine…
That’s because, in many sports organizations, sustainability is often shunted into the background, it’s an after-thought or a side project, not a mainstream system-wide initiative. There are exceptions, but typically, sustainability projects aren’t viewed as part of business-as-usual, they’re seen as extra.
So, they will have to make their own opportunities…
Dealing with the environment and climate change can no longer simply be boxes that teams check off. People in positions of power, regardless of gender, have to champion it. Sustainability should be a part of every department head’s job. And those department heads need to support the people — women, more often than not — working on issues from sustainable purchasing to fan engagement, for real change to happen. This needs to come from the VP level and above.
If that support doesn’t materialize, the people doing this work (again, mostly women) need to be able to break some figurative glass — advocate for bold change — while also being seen as a team player. It can be a challenging role to navigate.
Thing is, women have been doing this forever.
Climate change is far from the first existential threat women have faced…
In the last ten years, we’ve seen white men start to look around and accept that climate change is an existential threat, and that can be a very scary thing to acknowledge. But women and people of color regardless of gender have lived all sorts of existential threats (racism, sexism, domestic violence, economic deprivation, etc.) forever.
With that backdrop, they are used to fighting for something, to doing more work, to picking up the slack.
This is why, when women are given or create the opportunity to make a real difference in sustainable sports, more often than not they will succeed.
Aileen McManamon, Senior Partner, 5T Sports
Women are helping to build traffic at the important intersection of Sports & Climate Justice…
As we increasingly talk about climate impact and climate justice, we’re seeing the emergence of women who have been long been well-represented among social and community leaders step more into the climate dialogue. Within sports teams, there are an increasing number of VPs of Sustainabilty who are stepping into an expanded role from areas such as Diversity & Inclusion, Human Resources and Foundation Directors and connecting the ‘green operations’ to community initiatives.
Sierra Quitiquit, Freeskier, model, film producer, Protect Our Winters (POW) Athlete Ambassador, and climate activist
Women Eco-Athletes as both nurturers and activists…
I think most women have strong maternal, nurturing instincts. Because we procreate life I believe it’s inherent in our being to want to protect life. And without a healthy home and planet we can’t possibly create an environment for life — both ourselves and our children, to thrive.
There’s a beautiful shift happening in humanity right now. Women, including those who are athletes, are reclaiming their power and rightful place in this world as equals and we are not afraid to use our voices to stand up for what is just and important.
Kristen Fulmer, Founder, Recipric, a change agency
Shifting from one male-dominated industry (real estate) to another (sports)…
I come from working in sustainability in the real estate and construction industries. Both are known for promoting male leadership and that was my experience.
But, when I list my valued mentors and most respected colleagues in the building industry, I find myself writing the names of fearless, passionate women. Not only are they accomplished, but they are also collaborative and never shy to share lessons learned or even ‘secrets’ – it feels like an unspoken network of allies within a sometimes intimidating industry.
Has led some men to underestimate me…
After shifting industries to focus on sustainability in sport earlier this year, I was hesitant that the stereotype of a male-led industry would be similar to that of real estate.
In describing my new work with Recipric, it has sometimes been assumed that I have little knowledge of sports, relying solely on my sustainability expertise… Someone recently started to explain a certain internationally-known athlete by first describing which sport they played.
Kristin Hanczor, Corporate Partnership Manager with the Green Sports Alliance
Women have long demonstrated their value in male dominated industries; Green-Sports is just the latest example…
Women often have to find innovative ways to prove their worth, especially in traditionally male dominated industries such as sports. Sometimes they have doors shut in their face so they find or make another entrance.
Women are well represented in the global sustainability movement, making up more than half of global CSR positions¹ and are doing incredible work all over the world. We have been able to prove not only the social and environment benefits but also the business value of more sustainable practices, which some sports leaders have ignored or overlooked. Once we prove something works, it becomes much, much harder for an industry to keep us out.
Sheila Nguyen, Executive Director of Sports Environment Alliance, Melbourne, Australia
An American leading a Green-Sports organization in Australia has been…
As most would agree, sport has been a predominantly male dominated industry, so to think a woman could lead on a topic of such high visibility and newness — ‘Sustainability and Sport, what is that?’ — is a bit, well, unexpected.
Add to that my American accent and Vietnamese heritage and you’ve got extra explanations.
In spite of all of that, the world of sport Down Under has been exceptionally receptive and being a woman, working in this space, in the ‘Thunberg era’ has been immensely fun!