Female Leadership in the Sport-Based Youth Development Sector

Today marks International Women’s Day, a focal point of Women’s History Month that celebrates the diverse achievements of women across the world and spotlights the continued fight for gender equity. This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter, a call to action for accelerating gender balance in business, politics, media coverage, and wealth. At Laureus USA, our goal is to explore how this plays out in the sport-based youth development sector, and highlight the impactful women who are helping to pave the way for future generations of female leaders.

Women represent more than 70 percent of the nonprofit workforce, but still face structural barriers to advancement. A report by the White House Project found that while women make up 45 percent of the CEOs at nonprofits as a whole, they only comprise 21 percent of the CEOs at nonprofits with budgets of $25 million or more. Additionally, Guidestar’s 2018 Compensation Report found that median compensation of female nonprofit CEOs was consistently lower than that of their male peers, ranging from a 4 percent gap at the lowest to a 20 percent gap at the highest. These are significant gaps to close, especially in a sector where women are the majority.

It’s important to note that women of color face additional challenges in their climb to the top. According to the Building Movement Project, the percentage of people of color in Executive Director and CEO roles has remained under 20 percent for last the 15 years, even while the US has become significantly more diverse. Our CEO, Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, is clearly the exception rather than the rule.

Interestingly, our research found better parity in the sports-based youth development sector. According to our 2018 State of Sport for Good Report, the average gender breakdown of an organization’s staff and senior leadership was 50/50. However, only 68 percent of organizations agreed or strongly agreed that their organization values gender equity in their staff, board, and participants, which points to the need for women to be better supported in other areas of SBYD organizations.

Laureus USA is proud to work with many outstanding female founders who are creating much-needed opportunities for young women to realize their full potential. Ana Reyes in the Founder and Executive Director of I Challenge Myself, which helps New York City public school students strengthen their minds, bodies and spirits through cycling and fitness challenges. Chelsea Hylton is the Founder and Executive Director of Project Peaceful Warriors, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that has helped more than 1,300 students across 10 different schools lead happier and healthier lives by practicing yoga. Sharon Cohen is the Founder and CEO of Figure Skating in Harlem, a program that provides young women of color in NYC and Detroit the chance to build confidence, improve academics and use figure skating to understand themselves and the world around them. Laura Stein is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Dancing Grounds, a dance program in New Orleans that has provided an inclusive space for people to express themselves, attracting more than 6,000 participants in 2018. These women provide a glimpse of what’s possible when women are supported as changemakers in their communities.

According to the Pew Research Center, while women and men are equally capable when it comes to the key qualities and behaviors that are essential for top leaders, women still make up only a small share of top leadership jobs in many industries, including politics, higher education and business. It seems that, despite some existing gender leadership and pay gaps, nonprofits will be at the forefront of women in leadership for many years to come. However, diversity at the top is key to nonprofit effectiveness, and we must make an effort to ensure that more women have a seat at the table. Making sure that women are leaders alongside men is not just a women’s issue, it’s an imperative for all of us.

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