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Sports physiotherapyJul 28, 2023

WIF survey finds that females working in football are facing increased levels of discrimination

Women in Football’s (WIF) most comprehensive survey of women working and volunteering in football has revealed that discrimination is rife in the industry. Though, for example, eight women in 10 (82 per cent) said they had experienced discrimination at work – the overall picture is more positive than previous surveys, WIF said in a statement released yesterday (27 July).

Most respondents said they feel accepted, and are encouraged, in the workplace and nine, while nine in 10 (89 per cent) feel optimistic about their prospects in the industry – up from six in 10 (62 per cent) in 2016. 

The overall prevalence of discrimination (such as sexism, sexual harassment and derogatory comments about people’s ability based on their gender) has worsened, however. In the 2023 survey, 82 per cent of respondents said they had experienced discrimination at work – up from 66 per cent in 2020.

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More women now feel that there is scope to excel in the football industry today, WIF says

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Still 'a way to go'

It's also clear that employers in the football industry must create a safe and encouraging system for people to report discrimination – and then to protect those on the receiving end, while dealing with the issue properly [Yvonne Harrison, WIF)

The percentage of respondents who experienced gender-based discrimination at work felt able to report it (23 per cent) had doubled from the 12 per cent found in the the 2020 survey, prompting WIF to say ‘it is clear there is still a way to go’ in its statement.

Chief executive Yvonne Harrison said: ‘There's been progress – slower progress than most of us would like, but there are some real nuggets of optimism that fill me with absolute joy. While the figures show that more people are reporting discrimination, it's still not enough. The fear factor of putting yourself forward is really, really significant still.

Ms Harrison said that women who are subjected to negative behaviours might be less willing to show tolerance as gender issues are talked about more in the workplace. ‘On the flip side of that, we found some real positives in that 67 per cent of women feel that the football industry is now an industry where they can excel and actually only 45 per cent felt that back in 2020.

‘The glass ceiling effect remains a concern, and addressing the issue is made harder by the lack of data. We call upon the industry to be more transparent and joined-up with its data so collectively we have an accurate picture of the football workforce from which we can create change.

‘It's also clear that employers in the football industry must create a safe and encouraging system for people to report discrimination – and then to protect those on the receiving end, while dealing with the issue properly.'

Discrimination is 'widespread'

Ms Harrison added: ‘Like all other forms of discrimination, sexism can ruin careers and lives. Sadly, it's becoming more widespread. Football needs to up its game and show zero tolerance to the perpetrators. Despite the backdrop of all of these issues, there is an optimism that women can excel in this industry.'

Glass ceiling

Among those who report discrimination, many said nothing happened as a result, with some being pressured to stop pursuing the issue and a number suffering unpleasant consequences. Others, however, received apologies and reported that their employers had dealt with the issue very well.

Some of the contrasts between the new survey, which was conducted from April to May 2023, and the previous version appear to show that the football industry is making steady progress towards gender-inclusiveness. In 2020 only 45 per cent agreed that football was an environment where women can excel – but this was up to 67 per cent in 2023.

While the industry may be more open to women in entry and mid-level positions, a 'glass ceiling' remains in the way of their progress to the upper echelons – with just 27 per cent of women saying they are encouraged to forge pathways to the highest positions in the game. 

Key findings

  • 93 per cent of female WIF members have faced an obstacle in their football career because of their gender - compared to 82 per cent in a previous survey
  • about half of all female WIF members believe they have been overlooked for career progression due to their gender
  • 89 per cent said they were optimistic about the prospects of women in the football industry – up 27 percentage points from only 62 per cent in 2016 but only 27 per cent of women say they are encouraged to forge pathways to the highest positions in the game
  • in 2020, only 45 per cent agreed that football was an environment where women can excel – but this was up to 67 per cent in 2023 
Author: Ian A McMillan
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