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New Survey Shows Playing Team Sports Benefits Women’s Careers

We know how much participating in sports can change a girl’s life, and a new survey from EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW shows the majority of women executives say that a sport background can help accelerate a woman’s leadership and career potential, and has a positive influence on hiring decisions.

An online survey recorded the answers of more than 400 female executives throughout the globe, with the top five countries consisting of Brazil, Canada, China, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The U.S. contributed one-fifth of all respondents. Half the surveyed women serve either on the board of directors or as CEO, CFO, or COO, so called C-Suite executives, of their companies. The remaining half of the women occupied other management positions.

The resulting research report, Making the connection: women, sport and leadership, finds just over half (52 percent) of these women played a competitive sport at the college level, while 94 percent have participated in athletics during some period in their life. Close to three-quarters (74 percent) agree with the statement that a background in sport can help accelerate a woman’s leadership and career potential, while 61 percent say past involvement in a sport has contributed to their own current career success.

Slightly more than two-thirds surveyed highlighted a background in sport as a positive influence on their decision to hire a candidate. In fact, women executives who once played competitive sports, in college or elsewhere, prefer to hire other people with athletics in their background. The C-suite women executives said they believe people who participate in athletics make good professionals. Further, they believe the ability to motivate others is one positive outcome of playing sports, while the commitment to complete projects is another. Discipline as honed by sports, they say, also translates into positive corporate qualities, such as determination and work ethic.

The women filter their perceptions of their own abilities through this same lens… but not entirely. The most important contributors to their current career success are persistence, ambition and drive, and confidence, they say. However, the actual traits they prize within themselves are not those that are obviously cultivated when training for competitive sports. Asked to rate aspects of their leadership skills, the women said their most effective traits were problem solving, communication skills, and adaptability.

Donna de Varona, the first President of the Women’s Sports Foundation and Lead Advisor to EY’s Women Athletes Business Network, says:

“This study confirms the significant role participating in sports plays in providing the tools necessary to succeed in the competitive world in which we live. Yet again, these results underscore how critical it is for girls to have equal access to sport around the world. When they do, the positive results are undeniable.”