Sexism in College Swimming: A Man's Guide

Yesterday, I wrote about the stunning inequity between men and women in college swimming. The blog focused a lot on the describing the problem that's out there. What it didn't do is talk much about solutions.

Now, rather than mansplaining to female coaches about what they should do, I'd rather reach out to my fellow men. We hold the most power to do something about this situation, and with that power comes the responsibility.

Here are some things you can do as a man to address this issue. For the purposes of this advice, I have split these into a "boss" category and a "colleague" category. We'll start with the most powerful:

For Bosses

1. Actively recruit women to coaching positions- One of the most frequent complaints I hear from men about the lack of female coaches is that they can't find any "quality" candidates for their open positions. This is lazy. Yes, if you have an open coaching position at school you will most likely be deluged by men applying to that job.

That does not mean that there aren't actually a lot of well qualified female candidates out there. Spending time recruiting them will give you a competitive advantage because you will tap into a market for assistant coaches that many of your competitors are ignoring. Imagine if you got to recruit in areas of the country that your competitors totally ignored. Wouldn't that be an advantage?

When I was a head club coach, I easily filled my staff with over 50% women, helped them find opportunities for advancement and generally felt as if I had a competitive advantage because of it. It was a win-win-win.

2. Create a family friendly workplace- The world of swimming jobs is notoriously bad for families. Between the odd hours, the lack of off-season in many Division 1 programs and often non-existent family leave policies in athletic departments, it's a tough world out there, especially for those looking to start a family. Also, don't forget about the bad pay!

Men can be at work the day after a child is born, although I wouldn't suggest it. Women, on the other hand, have unavoidable disruptions with work should they choose to have a family. Some of the worst attrition in among the ranks of women in college coaching comes after the birth of their first child.

If you're a head coach, go ahead and read this excellent guest article on Swimswam. Please realize that Greg Meehan and Tracy Slusser did not lead Stanford Women's swim team to a NCAA title despite her being six months pregnant when she started working there. They made a conscious decision that coaches having a family would be a strength of their program.

There's a giant talent pool of female coaches that have left or never tried college coaching because of the poor work-life balance. This inequity can be a huge advantage if you are bold enough to make a change. 

For Colleagues

1. Don't be a bully- Women are far fewer in number in college swimming. They are often excluded from the socializing and casual deckside banter that is pretty much the lifeblood of coaching relationships and hiring.

They are also easy to pick on. As I pointed out in my article on Teri McKeever, female coaches often get criticized for characteristics that are praised in male coaches. As Toni Armstrong points out in the article above, female coaches are also pushed to "masculinize" their coaching style. Isn't that some paradox?

No wonder female coaching attrition is so high. Isolated, pushed to act a certain way and then criticized for it. The situation can feel hopeless. As a male colleague, you need to break out of this system and rise above it.

2. Be an ally- As a male coach, there are so many things you can do to shift the power balance towards women in swimming.

Cultivate female mentors (there are some amazing ones out there), and talk openly about that mentorship. If you're a male coach and don't have female mentors you are really missing out on some amazing wisdom.

Look for situations where your female co-worker is selling herself short and be the person who tells her she deserves more. As we approach salary and evaluation time, be open with your co-worker about how you will approach the head coach.

At least start

These suggestions are just a beginning. There is so much work to be done! Ultimately, the more we improve the standing of women in our sport the more we improve our sport for everybody involved. 

Are you a woman who would like to speak out on this issue? Write me for a guest posting spot.