Boss Lady

Is there a correlation between women’s sport and their career success?


It was never easy to be a woman in a male-dominant world. However, as times change so do certain beliefs and behaviours. Nowadays, women can do almost any job men can do. Women have fought vigorously for their rights and it took them a long time to get where they are now. Even though full equality among men and women hasn’t been achieved, the change in favour of women is evident. Throughout history, women have proved that they can be good at many things as well as men. Breaking of gender norms started through sports and continued to the world of business. This article comments on the correlation between successful businesswomen and their tendency of being engaged in some sport.

1. Numbers and figures

Many studies have been carried out in order to show whether there is a correlation between successful businesswomen and women who play sport. A study conducted by EY found a positive correlation between successful businesswomen and sport. Namely, senior businesswomen in the C-suite participated in the study and it has been found that a stunning 94% of them played some sport during their lifetime and more than half of them played sport at the university level as well. So, the connection between success in sport and success in business is evident. Out of the 400 women in the survey, 75% stated that when they interviewed potential employees, their sports background influenced their decision to hire them. They gave special significance to female applicants with a sports background. The reason for this, they stated, is the work ethic they acquire through different sports.

Another statistics says that 70% of children in the US drop out of a sport before they reach the age of 13. This figure itself is alarming, especially for the female children dropping out of a sport. It can affect their future negatively, since recent studies have shown that girls who do sports in primary, secondary school and at university have better chances of graduating from college, finding a job and even obtaining a job in male-dominant industries.

2. Additional research findings

Other studies that have researched the correlation between women’s success in sports and in business have found that 90% of women surveyed said that teams are the best way to deal with complex business problems. On the other hand, 82% of women from the study believes that if they improve their organizational skills, they will be key to future competitiveness. When comparing C-suite positions and managers positions of the surveyed women, 67% of women occupying a C-suite position participated in sports as a working adult, while 55% of managers stated the same. As far as playing sports at a university level is concerned, 55% of the women who have a C-suite position played sports actively at a university level while 39% of the women employed as managers said the same thing. And lastly, 76% of women surveyed reported that the techniques they learned from sports can be applied in the corporate environment as an effective means of improving the overall performance of their team. So, if you have the ambition to be a CEO later, play sports now!

3. Benefits of sports and fitness

As it is common knowledge, there are numerous advantages of being active in a sport or doing fitness. Some general benefits are quite familiar to many people, but there are some other, maybe not so obvious benefits that also come with practising sport.

a. Mental and physical health benefits

The first advantage of doing regular physical activities are health benefits. People who do exercise regularly control their weight more easily. Doing sport increases one’s energy levels and reduces the risk of chronic diseases. Regular physical activity strengthens our heart, muscles and bones. It has positive effects on our mental health as well. Doing exercises reduces the chances of developing depression, anxiety and other conditions.

b. General benefits

Some studies show that playing sports may be the secret to women’s career success. Besides the health benefits, there are also some other general benefits that come with the sport we practice. A balanced diet comes hand in hand with physical exercises. Some studies have found a correlation between eating unhealthy food and mental conditions such as depression and anxiety. That’s why it’s important to eat healthily. This isn’t easy to achieve nowadays, especially for women who work full-time, take care of their families and do a sport. Besides fresh fruit, whole grains, fish and other nutrient-rich food women should consider adding some healthy supplements to their diets, and should also assure adequate protein intake. For non-vegans and lactose-tolerant, there is whey protein, while others can look at vegetable protein supplements. Physical exercises also lead to regular and sound sleep. Lack of regular sleep can also cause depression. There are many other benefits such as better memory, higher self-esteem and stronger resilience among others.

c. Character building

Doing sport actively shapes our character in many ways. Besides the apparent health benefits, sport influences our characters as well. Team sports especially teach relationship skills and how to connect to the other members of a team in order to achieve one common goal. Playing sport and participating in competitions forges determination, commitment and the will to pursue the desired goals, both on the individual level and on the team level. These skills are valuable to the business world as well and are quite often used for the purposes of a business goal. The difference between the field and the business world is that the business world is much more volatile than the games and matches that are pre-scheduled. Sportspeople prepare and train for months, while businesspeople don’t have that luxury: everything is more or less instant.

d. Social connection

When we play some team sports such as basketball, football, baseball, lacrosse or hockey we are a part of a team. Even though we are all individuals, during matches we must think, act and play as one. Then our chances for winning are the best. While learning to play like one, we acquire some other social skills as well. We learn how to listen and understand other members of the team, how to predict another member’s next move and how to almost read each other’s minds during games. And we achieve all of this through social connection we must establish with the rest of the team members. This is how it usually works in big companies too – people need to listen to each other, they must cooperate and work together in order to accomplish a certain goal. Moreover, it has been shown in recent researches that there is a higher hiring rate for people who have played an Ivy League sport and the ones who are members of the pay-to-play sports club.

e. Competitive skills

People generally think that playing sports makes you a leader. But actually, it is vice versa. It is more likely that children who start playing sport are already competitive and have leadership skills as part of their character. It is also more likely that children who play sports come from well-off families since all sports demand money, time, energy and resources. The question is: Why are businesswomen who played/play sports more successful than businessmen who played/play sports? Well, the answer may lie in gender norms, to be exact, in breaking gender norms.

Exactly because of the acquisition of these skills through sports that are necessary in order to advance in the business world as well, it is essential that girls start doing sport from an early age. In that way, they will be able to acquire all the needed skills for obtaining a C-suite position later in life.

4. Breaking gender norms

When women play sports and they become quite good at them it is an important moment for the whole female population in the world. In that way, they prove they can be equally good at something that used to be a typical male thing. A long time ago, women weren’t supposed to play any sport. That slowly changed and women were allowed to be a part of some sports. Until recently, there existed a division between typically male and female sports, where women weren’t supposed to play male sports and vice versa. This is slowly starting to change. We can observe this change in the number of female contestants in the Olympics. This gender break in sport is connected to gender break in the business world. If women can be equally good in sports as men, why couldn’t’ they be equally good as men in the sphere of business too? As well as men, sport teaches women to be aggressive, competitive and tough, not to hesitate and to go for what they want. It teaches women not to be afraid of responsibilities and seeking promotion. It is becoming more and more obvious that your feet on the court can easily take you to the boardroom of a big company eventually.

5. The top 3 leadership skills developed by sports

As EY survey findings suggest, and what’s maybe the key to understanding the connection between women, sports and their business success, there are three essential leadership skills that are developed when we play sports. First, people who are active in sports develop the ability to see games through completion. They transfer and modify this skill to fit the business world so they are able to see projects through completion, which helps them be organized, focused and stay on track. Next, strong motivational skills are developed with every match we participate in. These skills are quintessential in the business world. You can’t move forward if you lack motivation. Motivation is the first step to the victory. Lastly, sports people end up being excellent in team building, which is of key importance for a company. You need to be able to estimate and compose a well-working team in order to achieve the best results in optimal time.

6. Successful women in both sports and business

As has been shown, women’s participation in sports has a positive impact on career success, which can be seen through the examples of successful sports and businesswomen.

We can observe one such example in the story of Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard who pursued an amazing number of four sports in her younger days. Namely, she was the captain of the swim team, she also played lacrosse, tennis and basketball. When she was at the university she played squash and lacrosse. Whitman says that she loved team sports and that she still uses the basketball aphorisms she learned when she was a part of a basketball team for the purpose of pulling a business team together.

There are some other examples as well. Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo CEO played cricket in college. And look where it got her! Lynn Elsenhas, Sunoco CEO played in the first women’s basketball team in her college days. Irene Rosenfeld, Mondelez International CEO played four varsity sports and basketball while in college. They all must have learned many things from all these sports which they have undoubtedly transferred to the business world they achieved such success in.

As seen in the article, a striking connection between sports and success in business as far as women are concerned does exist. So, parents do your daughters favour and enrol them into a sports club, be there for them, support them and they might end up on a high position in the business world.

About Mia Johnson

Mia Johnson is a writer with a ten-year long career in journalism. She has written extensively about health, fitness, and lifestyle. A native to Melbourne, she now lives in Sydney with her 3 dogs where she spends her days writing and taking care of her 900 square feet garden.

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