Women-focused organizations, such as Sports Women of Tampa, can serve an important role in supporting women who aspire to have careers in the male-dominated realm of sport.

In his book, Diversity and Inclusion in Sport Organizations, Cunningham highlights that the sport industry has historically been a male oriented space where men have continuously held positions of power, subjugating women’s ability to participate and take positions of authority. Despite this historical power imbalance, research also shows that better business decisions are made when a diverse group of both men and women are a part of the process. Further, having more women represented in leadership roles can ultimately help an organization progress and evolve in a successful direction.

Even where women do hold jobs in sport organizations, they tend to be underrepresented in high ranking positions. In sport, the glass ceiling for women is potentially lower than in other fields, and there are few women who advance to senior roles within sport organizations. Women have slowly started to become a part of the sport industry fabric in organizational positions, but there is still a long way to go with regard to representation and leadership.

In light of these inequities, The Sport Women of Tampa (SWOT) was founded as a student organization in the spring of 2015 at The University of Tampa, Florida. SWOT was founded on the hope that the organization would create a supportive environment for women across the undergraduate population interested in pursuing their passion in the sport industry. Building on this founding principle, the organization provides the opportunity for students who identify as female to come together and share experiences, offer advice, and form a supportive network for one another.

The mission of SWOT is to help women interested in pursuing a career in the sport industry to:

  • Develop networking skills to become strong female leaders in the sport industry
  • Acquire knowledge and insight about gender inequalities through seminars
  • Learn about the lived experiences of professional women, who work in predominately male industries
  • Volunteer time and create mentorship opportunities for all members
  • Promote and support equal opportunities for all within the arena of sport

SWOT hopes to inspire, connect, and create a network of highly motivated women who not only want to break the glass ceiling, but help others to follow. We want to lead by example and also learn from the previous experiences of others. For example, diversity with regard to gender requires greater engagement and progress at the executive level. To get to that level, there needs to be a cooperative environment in which women are able to build solid relationships and advocate for one another in their progression through the sport work landscape.

The field of sport management is relatively new to higher education and has only recently begun to flourish as an interdisciplinary degree for students seeking careers in sport. However, many of these programs attract more men than women, and the sport management major is numerically dominated by men. This is not a new trend, and in fact, the underrepresentation of women working in the sport industry is a direct reflection of the number of women who identify as sport management majors. In the case of the University of Tampa, the majority of students enrolled in the Sport Management major at the university identify as male, even though the University of Tampa female to male ratio is 55 females to 45 males.

To help address this situation, SWOT members work for various professional, semi-professional, intercollegiate, and stand-alone sport programs in the Tampa Bay area; the men in these organizations are usually in positions in which they are the students’ supervisors. The majority of SWOT members hold positions in ticket sales, community relations, or game-day operations. All have a passion to work in the sport industry, but few have had the opportunity to work outside of the previously highlighted areas.

The sport industry involves working long hours and working closely with colleagues to execute an event or game day. Working in the sport industry is not a 9-to-5 job. One may work nights, early mornings, weekends, holidays, in addition to office hours held during the normal business week. In some cases, a SWOT member may sometimes be the only woman who is working during this time.

The goal of SWOT is to instill confidence in our members so they are comfortable in these spaces, where they are underrepresented, but still have the fortitude to thrive and let their voices be heard when it comes to decision-making matters. We want to increase the presence of women in the sport industry and in positions at the executive level. In order to do so, we must equip our members with knowledge and understanding of the various challenges they may face in a male dominated field.

We hope that as our members graduate and move on in their career, they will establish their own version of SWOT within their selected graduate programs or sport organizations. Having chapters of women and sport organizations, on college campuses and in the sport industry; will allow women in the male dominated field, to connect and support each other nationally and internationally.

Long term, we hope to create a ripple effect in which there is an increased awareness of what it means to be a woman in the sport industry and how important it is to have women represented in all aspects of daily life. We hope also that other such organiaations would be willing to engage in collaborative relationships, and would encourage other staff or student organiaations to contact us for any advice on establishing codes of practice for a women’s organiaation.

Nalani Butler is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at The University of Tampa, where she is also the faculty advisor for the Sports Women of Tampa (SWOT). Her research areas in the discipline of sport studies include: globalization and sport, sport labor migration, and sport for development. She is available on Twitter @DrNalaniB and Instagram @DrNalaniB

Piece assisted by:

Haley Wolstenholm is a sophomore at the University of Tampa, majoring in Sports Management. She is the current Treasurer and President-elect for Sports Women of Tampa. Haley has served as a volunteer for game-day operations and events. She currently does volunteer work for the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Emma Hutchings is currently a junior at The University of Tampa studying Human Performance as her major and minoring in Sport Management. As a Co-President of Sport Women of Tampa (SWOT) she provides insights on gender inequality issues in the sports industry by attending conferences, speaking at events and participating in volunteering opportunities.