Ciara McCormack on Women in Coaching
For those who are not familiar with Ciara McCormack, circumstances have thrust her into the role of Canada's safe sport conscience. While not a direct victim of Bob Birarda's sexual abuse and professional misconduct, she was forced into that environment and was the one who ultimately blew the whistle on Birarda and the subsequent coverup by the Vancouver Whitecaps and Canada Soccer. You can hear her talk more about this experience in an excellent 2-part interview on the End of Sport podcast.
Recently, she published a blog on the lack of women in coaching positions in Canada. This is a very fashionable topic at the moment; virtually every organization is making some kind of commitment to bring more of X-group (women, racialized persons, LGBTQ+ individuals, etc.) into the fold. Obviously, these intentions are admirable and a step in the right direction but, as Ciara points out, marginalized groups are not only excluded from participation, they also self-select out for a number of reasons.
If you haven't read Ciara's blog post, stop and go there now, then come back — don't worry, I'll wait for you. Even if you have read it, it's worth revisiting this passage from the beginning of her piece before we go any further:
I’ve had chats with a few men lately about why there are hardly any female coaches in Canada.
I don’t bring it up. They do.
In the form of trying to unravel some mystery that they can’t wrap their heads around.
And after a few of these conversations, I can’t help but ask myself if the men that are asking are truly ignorant or if they don’t want to face the answers. Because knowing the why behind something implores one to take action. A change that may not benefit them, and could even hurt their opportunities or finances. Ignorance gives safety: an excuse for inaction.
Ciara goes into much more detail and does so quite poignantly, but you get the idea. This question of "how do we get more of X-group" into our organization is a simple question with a simple, known answer. The answer is cultural change — nothing less will solve the problem. The real question is whether these organizations are actually willing to do the work necessary to affect the change. It's one thing to say that something is important to you; it's a whole other thing to take the steps to make it happen.
Now, I don't want to replicate Ciara's post because it speaks for itself. She analyzes the issue with perfect clarity, real-life examples, and a set of experiences to which I (obviously) cannot speak. But if I may presume to add anything, for the men in the room, as a man, it's this...
You’ll probably read Ciara’s piece and think “I wouldn’t do any of that stuff. I’d respect and work with my women colleagues and I’d hire a qualified woman, if I was in that position.” That's all well and good but, number one, you don’t get points for that — that’s the bare minimum and you’re looking for a pat on the back, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Number two, what do you actually do when your women colleagues or employees tell you something needs to change? Not what are you going to do in the future but what have you done in the past. What do you do when they tell you they need support? What do you do when they say something isn’t working for them? What do you do when they feel unwelcome or unsafe? Are you really willing to change how you do things? Are you really willing to engage with the culture of the sporting environment in which you grew up? Are you willing to have the difficult conversation with a male colleague?
Perhaps more importantly, are you soliciting their feedback and receiving genuine responses? Are your women colleagues and employees even going to bring this to you? Have you earned their trust? Have you done enough to permeate all the exclusionary, sexist, dangerous, nonsense they’ve had to put up with all their lives and allowed them to feel safe sharing with you?
These are critical reflective questions for any man working in a male-dominated field because everyone says they’re open to new ideas until the new ideas require us to push back against something that we hold dear. The reality is that if you are old enough to read this and you grew up in a sporting culture, it means that you, like me, grew up in a culture that favours cis, heterosexual, white men. Which doesn’t mean you’re not smart and accomplished — it just is what is it. So, you need to be prepared to ask yourself the tough questions. The realities of the situation are obvious to the women in the room and now, more than ever, they are feeling empowered to ask the tough questions (not that it should fall to them to do so).
Now is the time for intersectional solidarity between women and other groups that have been traditionally excluded from sport spaces. If you're a man and a person of colour, you know what that exclusion feels like; if you’re a man and Black or Indigenous or LGBTQ+, you know that feeling of literal un-safety. We have a responsibility to leave the game better than we found it and that means (among other things), full participation and inclusion of women in every role, at every level.
Ultimately, this comes down to something I've written about a great deal elsewhere: surface-level diversity is just that. Diversity doesn’t come from headshots on a website; it comes from having diversity of culture and thought in every aspect of the organization. Every organization needs those voices; it’s not about acceptance, it’s about active inclusion and growth. When are we going to stop talking and start doing? That starts with me and each and every one of you reading this.
If we want to do more, we need to do more.