If Women Ruled…Sports Boards…

Many of us have heard the famous hypothesis that “if women ruled the world, the world would be a more peaceful place.” Whatever you think of that claim, something similar is now being said of sports.

A research study out of Australia says, “More Women on Sports Boards Would Reduce Corruption, Doping.” As a feminist philosopher and member of a department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research, I’m always intrigued by claims like this that suggest women would do better than men. I’m often wary because the suggestion that women are ethically superior to men makes an essentialist claim about women’s moral superiority that I doubt can be borne out by the evidence.  Is there something in women’s genes that make them more ethical? I doubt it.

So it was heartening to read that the researcher, Catherine Ordway, doesn’t think having more women on sports boards would improve things because women are more ethical. Rather, according to this report in the Canberra Times, Ordway claims that:

It was not because woman were “more moral or nurturing” but because diversity on boards tended to break up “group think” – the more diverse a board in the gender, culture and backgrounds of its members, the broader the mix of ideas and creativity, she said. It was also more likely that people would ask “the tough questions”. But there was limited value in simply appointing women from the same backgrounds as the men – instead, boards should look for diversity.

This claim that diversity breaks up “group think” has been presented in different forms by feminist philosophers over the past few decades. In the context of acquiring new knowledge, feminist philosophers have claimed that a more diverse group of thinkers will come up with more diverse questions because of the very different perspectives they bring to the table and the different experiences from which their interests and questions arise.

It’s interesting to see a similar hypothesis play out in a sports context. We won’t really know if Ordway’s right until we see a shift in the composition of sports boards:

She supports the push to have more women on the top sporting boards – with the Australian Sports Commission running a name-and-shame style system where it names boards with fewer than 20 per cent women on their boards.

Its latest report names archery (17 per cent), boxing (14 per cent) and the Australian paralympic committee (10 per cent) as having fewer than 20 per cent women in January 2015.

The sports commission’s target is for women to make up 40 per cent of board members of the top 15 sports boards, and Ms Ordway said the target was likely to make a difference not only to the number of medals won by Australians but also to integrity – meaning less doping, match-fixing and corruption.

You can read more about this research here:

Meanwhile, what do you think? How different would sports be if women occupied more seats in the power structures?

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