How Can Philanthropy Do More to Support Women in Sports?

Golfer Maria Fassi greets young girl fans at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur event. (Photo credit: Augusta National Women’s Amateur on Twitter)

Good news for women in sports: for the first time ever, the Augusta National golf tournaments included women, in the form of the first Augusta National Women’s Amateur event. Finally, one of the oldest and most revered golf courses in America allowed women to officially compete on its greens.

USA Today asked a very pertinent question following the breakthrough: What if Augusta National had done this 20 years ago? This process of opening up golf to women could be so much further advanced today, if we could have gotten the ball rolling earlier.

What if all athletics began to welcome women, to recognize how women’s sports could attract just as many viewers and revenue (maybe even more) than men’s sports? How do we get sports institutions closer to the threshold of change, so they can stop digging in their heels to resist, and begin openly welcoming women as equals in the sector?

With continued pressure from athletes themselves as well as the sponsors of sport, golf courses and many other sport arenas are becoming more accepting of women, but progress has not been easy. Alison Curdt, a veteran women’s golfer and business owner in the sector, argues that we need much more acceptance and mutual support in golf, in an article entitled “A Skirt Among Khakis: My struggle to navigate golf’s gender gap.”

So how do we get there? First, of course, by organizing the sports players. In the sport of golf, that organizing has been going like gangbusters in the past few years. The Ladies Professional Golf Association launched the LPGA Women’s Network in 2017, to provide a platform where women could unite. With more than 40,000 women joining the network in 2018, this was a great way to bring unity to the voices and advocacy goals of the women’s golf profession.

Alongside of this growing network, LPGA has been able to increase prize money and events dramatically in recent years, going from $41.5 million in prize money and 23 events in 2011, to 32 events and a total purse of $68.45 million in 2019. The money is starting to move in the right direction, but compared to men’s, women’s prizes are still only about 46% of men’s — a long way from parity.

How Can Progressive Women Donors Support Women’s Athletics?

There are many ways that women donors can impact the sports scene, both in their local communities, at the policy level locally, and at the policy level nationally.

1: Support Women’s and Girls Sports with Funding

Feminist philanthropy can take the lead in supporting women’s athletics at all ages.

Some specific suggestions:

1. Support the Women’s Sports Foundation — Founded by Billie Jean King, this is THE central hub for funding in this area. If you don’t want to dive directly into this work yourself, just give money to the Women’s Sports Foundation, because they already know what to do with it.

2. Sponsor some girls to play a sport: contact a local sports league and offer to provide scholarships specifically for girls and young women to play.

3. Another area where there is a huge gender gap in sports is refereeing. Consider setting up a program to encourage and financially sponsor girls to become a referees for a sport through your community’s referee associations.

4. Endow a college with funds to create more sports scholarships for girls and young women. Consider earmarking a university contribution particularly for women’s athletic programs.

5. Provide support to a local sports business like gymnastics or karate, to ensure that girls of all backgrounds and financial means can participate.

2. Advocate for Sports in the Women’s Organizations and Networks

Discuss the role of sports in influencing culture at gatherings for feminism and/or philanthropy. Talk about how national policies and culture make it difficult for women to gain ground in sports. Encourage your organization to celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day in order to call attention to the issue, or host other events that encourage attention to sports.

3. Be a Myth-Buster

Challenge the stereotypes that feed the male domination of sports. Feminist Majority Foundation provides a helpful page called Exploding the Myths that helps identify how sports myths continue to create disparity for women. For example, one myth that continues to be propagated is that women are inferior to men in strength and speed, and therefore can’t be as good at athletics. In fact, many women overlap with men in terms of strength and speed, and many men perform at levels far lower than women.

4. Become a Sports Equity Policy Geek and Evangelist

Learn about the three areas that gender equity needs improvement in sports: participation opportunities, financial aid for athletes, and other benefits and opportunities associated with athletics.

Use your influence as a philanthropists to encourage policy makers to take specific steps that reduce gender bias in all three areas. Talk to you local legislators, your members of Congress, and anyone else in an official position, and let them know you want gender equity to be addressed in the specific areas of participation, financial support, and other benefits (like physical fitness and access to education) for women athletes.

In university settings, consider talking to athletics administrators as well as college presidents and faculty. Ask them to inform you of the gender equity issues at their institution and anything that has been done to address the issues.

5. Support Media that Recognizes the Need for Gender Equity in Sports

Media around gender equity in sports can have a huge impact, partially because sports crosses over into popular culture and many young people look to sports figures as models. Make sure to contact the media and make them aware of anything you feel deserves coverage around gender equity in sports. Encourage reporters and bloggers to cover women’s athletics in your community. Contact local radio and TV talk shows and ask them to share news and events related to gender equity in sports.

Some more specific suggestions:

1. Support women sports reporters and media coverage of women’s sports. Be that annoying person who calls up the TV station and asks why there is little to no coverage of women’s sports, or a lack of female reporters in the sports department.

2. Consider sponsoring a photography or video series that has a sports/feminism theme to it, like this one. Create a spectacular set of images that help people reconceptualize women and girls as sports players, and then hold an event to showcase the work.

3. Go to women’s sports events and take pictures of yourself and share them on social media. Participate in a sport yourself and share your experiences with others.

4. And of course, get out there on social media and tweet and retweet about gender equity in sports. Or get someone to do it for you.

6. Support Legal Interventions

Much of the real change that has occurred in sports has been the result of legal advocacy and intervention. Title IX sets a standard that women must have equal access to sports in education, and finding ways to bring this to bear legally is an important strategy that feminist philanthropists can support. Or, as another possibility, you could support the Women’s National Soccer team in their lawsuit to get equitable pay. Or you could approach the issue by providing support to the Women’s Sports Foundation to increase their legal advocacy and educational resources.

Kiersten Marek

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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