The International Olympic Committee (IOC) co-hosted with the National Olympic Committee of Lithuania a Forum that aimed to foster women’s leadership in sport, last week. The Advancing Women in Leadership Roles Forum for Europe provided a platform for European sports leaders to discuss how to improve gender equality in sports leadership, as part of the IOC’s commitment to equal participation by women in sport more broadly.
During two days of panel discussions led by European sports leaders and gender equality experts from outside the Olympic Movement, speakers, including IOC President Thomas Bach, and participants made the case for gender equality in leadership, and shared practical ideas for engaging more women and men in the discussion and in practice.
The case for gender equality in leadership
“Gender equality is not a women’s issue – it’s a basic human right of profound importance,” stated the IOC President during the Forum’s opening session. “Men need to take full responsibility and work alongside women to make the world a better place. There are many ways to champion this important issue, and so let me encourage especially all the men present here today to get invovled. It is only when everyone does their part that we can make progress.”
Speaking during the first panel discussion, “It is time for women to run for office”, Halla Tomasdottir, Icelandic business leader and 2016 presidential candidate, explained that by excluding women we fail to leverage talent: “It’s as though we’re walking around with one eye covered up – it doesn’t make sense. We need diverse voices around the table to solve the complexities of our world today.”
A diverse leadership team is a stronger leadership team for two key reasons: diversity of thinking leads to better decision-making, and an inclusive culture brings out the best leadership qualities in both men and women. Highlighting the confidence gap still existing, Halla emphasized there is no need to talk about why gender equality is important, but rather “Let’s talk about the ‘how’”.
Gender equality is not a women’s issue – it’s a basic human right of profound importanceThomas Bach IOC President
During another panel entitled “Good governance: Everybody should get involved”, Kristina Thuree, Chair of the European Non-Governmental Sport Organisation’s Equality Within Sport (EWS) Committee, told the group how things have evolved since the 1980s when gender equality was considered a separate issue - a women’s issue. Today, gender balance in leadership is accepted as good governance. But still biases persist.
Practical ideas for engaging more women
So how can sports organisations engage more women leaders? Through the four panels and two-days of exchange, numerous key actions and ideas were recommended to leaders.
Forum delegates agreed that it is time to leave their comfort zones and change the paradigm. While many good recommendations and best practices already exist, to continue the progress, these need to be transformed into concrete positive actions in a strategic manner.
They recognised the leading role of the European Olympic Committees (EOC), supporting the current work it is doing and inviting the Organisation, amongst others, to encourage European NOCs to “present candidates of both genders for elections”.
Members of the European Olympic movement were also encouraged to make use of existing funding opportunities, including Olympic Solidarity and the Erasmus + Programme of the European Union, and existing resources (e.g. e-learning platforms), to put the action into practice. Acknowledging the current situation and the diversity among countries and organisations in Europe, the Forum delegates agreed that gender balance must be the goal.
The Forum was also an ideal opportunity for the IOC to launch the Advancing Women in Leadership Platform, an online collaborative learning community, which aims to connect and inspire women in sport, and provide useful resources for leaders who support gender equality.