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Louise Ripley

Gender Issues in Management

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hockey player
Hockey Game  In the Unit on Language we saw how sports language is so prevalent in management and business. It also shapes how we view the world. I still tell women aspiring to succeed in male-dominated fields to learn something about sports. You don't have to follow them all; pick one you can enjoy. Mine are baseball, Canadian football (a much better game than the American one!), and hockey during the play-offs, especially if the Leafs ever make it again. 

I have met women who refuse to learn anything about sports, or the military, because that's "men's stuff" and why should we learn it? There are good reasons to know something about sports, in addition to being able to talk the language that so many male managers speak.

A common sentiment in sports can build good-will in other areas. The guy who knows you were as desolate as he was when the Jays traded away Matt Stairs  in 2008 will be much more likely to support you in a departmental battle. I know this one works; I used it.

There is also a lesson here for managers, for leaders. Sometimes you make your own justice in the world, in the workplace, and you do it through hard work and teamwork. Matt Stairs didn't go grumbling and complaining to his new team and sit on the bench moping. He got right down to work, did his very best (as he always did), played as a team player, got hits that drove in runs (RBIs) and eventually hit the home run for the Philadelphia Phillies that enabled them to go to the World Series, which they ended up winning. Matt Stairs will now proudly wear a World Series ring.  

Matt Stairs batting for the Blue Jays

Another lesson we learn from Sports is to never ever give up. When Gregg Zaun was the catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, we had been tied into the thirteenth inning (9 is normal). In the top of the thirteenth inning the other team got three runs. In the bottom of the thirteenth (the game was at home), we had two outs when Gregg Zaun came to the plate. Gregg had not been doing well. In the last 29 times at bat he hadn't had a hit. We all held our collective breath as Gregg hit a two-out-walk-away-grand-slam-home-run to win the game. NEVER give up. 

Even advertisements show an awareness of how important sports can be to a woman's career. The picture of what "the corporate ladder actually looks like" is accompanied by the words:  

"More and more, the golf course is becoming the boardroom of the 21st century. And to help you make the most of it, we've introduced Links for Women Golf School. It takes place over a fun-filled day and is designed exclusively for women to learn golf in a fun, social and supportive environment. And whether you shoot 90 or 190, it's perfect for all levels of play. One day courses take place in cities all across Canada. For the city nearest you or for more information, call 1-877-754-4653 or visit us at

[Warning: if you click on the link to "linksforwomengolf" you will have to use the down arrow in your "back" button to get back here)

The sponsors are: 

golfball with letters Links for Women
waving hand Exercise
Golf Anyone?
Why do you think that so many women who aspire to upper management jobs are learning golf, whether or not they really have an urge to learn to play the game?
Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.

Another reason to know something about sports is that there are so many excellent examples of good (and poor) management and leadership in sports. For an excellent look at how sports can help us better understand these fields, read:  

Carter, David M. and Darren Rovell (2003) On the Ball: What You Can Learn About Business From America's Sports Leaders. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education Division of Prentice Hall Publishing.

Womenís general lack of knowledge and appreciation of sports starts with our earliest upbringing and socialization. Little girls play games that emphasize individual skill, like jacks and hopscotch; or we play non-competitive games like "House" while the little boys are playing on teams, learning all about the teamwork that makes up most of business.

On teams, boys learn to be aggressive and competitive and to take charge. They learn respect for authority, whether itís the coach or the boss. They learn that winning is the object of the game but there has to be a reasonable test of skill.

They learn good sportsmanship, which helps them handle failure and take defeat in stride. They learn how to play a position on a team and how to work for the success of the team, which helps them understand in business that ultimately it is not personal success but the success of the company that advances you.

They learn that although there are rules, there also are acceptable ways to break those rules, and that management often expects you to break those rules. Boys learn that much of the fun of any game, including business, is in pushing the limits within the confines of the rules, which later allows them to enjoy management as the ultimate test of their skill within the boundaries. list of rules

There is major disagreement in feminist circles as to whether women need to learn to play the game the way that boys do growing up, or just make a complete new set of rules. I fall somewhere in between. A complete set of new rules is never possible to do overnight; while we're working on them, it's not a bad idea to learn to speak the language of those who have held power longer. 

waving hand Exercise
Sports Heroes
Describe a work-related situation where it would be a good thing for a woman to know who Jose Bautista is, or what it means when someone talks about Paul Henderson scoring THE GOAL, and why the Olympic Gold Medal after 50 years was so crucial to Canadians in February of 2002. Why does a manager particularly need some knowledge of sports? 
Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.

A fascinating thing happened when I taught this course in the fall of 2010. A group, presenting its findings on the final day of classes, did an experiment with volunteers from the class. Two people stood at the board and at the signal, tried to write as many names of sports figures as they could, one assigned males and one assigned females. When the time was up, the person writing male names had a list of seven well-known names of male sports figures. The person writing female names had this list:

The tennis twins
The blonde tennis star

Not only had the second person been able to come up with only two names, but she did not even know names, only a description, of HOW THEY LOOK TO US.
Fascinating because it provided evidence for the group's case that women sports figures are not given nearly the media attention that we give to male sports figures.

From the Fall 2014 class, one group presenting made the important point that women need to know about sports for more than just keeping in the conversation with men. Sports teaches us leadership, teamwork, and all kinds of other qualities needed for management roles.

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AP/ADMS/WMST3120 3.0 Gender Issues in Management
York University, Toronto
© M Louise Ripley, M.B.A., Ph.D.