Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, Hillary Clinton, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi. What do these successful women all have in common? They all played competitive sport.
A study by Ernst & Young found that of the 821 high-level executives surveyed, a huge 90% of women played sports. And 96% of the women who held C-suite positions said the same.
Betsy Bernard was promoted at just 24 years old at AT&T. She was put in charge of 60 employees, who were up to 35 years older than she was at the time, and admits to being out of her comfort zone.
But Betsey had enjoyed ski racing since she was five years old, and was able to see her job as an exhilarating experience. At just 46 years old, she was the CEO of AT&T’s consumer business (worth $27 billion).
The Connection Between Sport and Female Success
There are a few reasons why so many women link their time spent on the field to their leadership skills.
In Meg Whitman’s book The Power of Many, she writes about how much she loved team sports. “When I’m pulling a business team together, I still use those basketball aphorisms…” she says. “Let’s pass the ball around a little before game time.”
Debbi Fields (founder of Mrs. Fields cookies) is an avid equestrian. Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO) was an aerobics instructor. Irene Rosenfield (Kraft Foods CEO) played college basketball. These are just a few examples of successful women who contribute much of their drive and confidence to their time spent playing sport.
Having a sense of discipline and teamwork instils skills that are hugely useful in the workplace- particularly for women.
In many industries, women are still dealing with a glass ceiling. In Australia, just 16% of CEOs or Heads of Business are women. And just 28.5% are key management personnel. There are more CEOS and chairs of ASX 200 companies named John than there are women in the same position. In fact, to be the head of a business in Australia, you’re 40% more likely to be named John or Peter than to be female.
To rise to the top in Australian business, women must be confident, committed, and ready to overcome obstacles. Many women gain these personality traits through their experience playing sport while growing up. Here’s why:
Sports keeps women and girls mentally and physically healthy. It teaches important relationship skills and helps forge determination. These are the types of benefits that spill over into the business world.
Breaking Gender Norms
Sports often encourage girls to break gender norms- something that they also need to do to climb to the top of the career ladder in Australia. Learning to be tough, competitive, and aggressive will often make them more willing to seek promotions and take on more responsibility.
Sports give women the confidence needed to be successful in the competitive business world. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation in the United States, girls who play sports have higher levels of self-esteem and confidence than those who don’t play.
Sports backgrounds instil emotional and mental toughness. This is because sports also builds resiliency, as players deal with bad days, losses, embarrassment, and more. Even if they’ve lost their last game, or played poorly, players must have the focus and discipline to get back on the field and play their best game.
As you can see, there are many reasons why sports and career success go hand-in-hand for women and girls. If you want to increase the chances that your daughters will have the skills to embrace challenges in business, consider enrolling them in a team sport today.