There is lots of discussion about gender equality (or lack thereof) in many areas of life these days: leadership, business, politics, sport not to mention differences in remuneration for females and males doing similar roles. And yet one could justifiably argue that some of the best leaders and role models that we have today are women. Jacinda Ardern the New Zealand prime minister, Michelle Obama lawyer, author and former first lady, Serena Williams (Tennis), Mikaela Shiffrin (skiing), Jessica Ennis (athletics), J K Rowling (author) and Greta Thunberg (environmentalist) are a few that spring to mind. And while there are obviously excellent male role models some of the males that we currently have as leaders are less than ideal (and that is being extremely kind and polite)!
But this blog is specifically about the representation of women in the role of educators and examiners of snowsport instructors for national training and certification bodies. I can, of course, only speak from my own personal experience as an educator and examiner, over the last 25 years, but it is my experience that the 'role' is very much male dominated and perhaps even more so than some of the areas of life mentioned in the opening paragraph.
So why is this the case?
Like many things in life there is not really one simple answer. If there was then it might be easier to solve the issue. But here are a few thoughts (and I hope this blog may prompt some discussion):
1) Skiing and snowsports has traditionally been an elitist sport.
Snowsports has traditionally attracted predominately wealthy white people who come from backgrounds and environments that have been very male chauvinist. This takes time to change.
2) Leadership roles in snowsport instructor education and certification bodies are extremely male dominated. Again I can only speak from personal experience but within the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) there has never been a female CEO, or female manager of the training body! The Irish Association of Snowsports Instructors (IASI) has a current female chair person but this role has also been male dominated over the years. While Snowsport Scotland (SSS) has done somewhat better with two female CEOs. However, during my time representing BASI and IASI at international meetings these have been very much male dominated suggesting that other organisations are also structured in a similar way. And when you look at the make up of the boards who run these organisations they are also extremely male dominated. But why? Is it simply a carry over from other industries? Or is it the 'climate' that is created by male dominated boards that put women off from getting involved or even putting themselves forward? Whatever the answer this male domination filters down to the training/education teams with women very much under represented.
3) The macho aspect of the sport within instructor education/training bodies puts women off. Sports like skiing tend to attract the competitive/macho males and within snowsport instructor education/training bodies you have some of the most opinionated, self-confident men on the planet! And perhaps this is not the kind of environment that women wish to be part of?
4) For women to make it into the training/education team they have to be especially tough. This is perhaps a carry over from the previous point but if women are to become trainers and examiners they need to be really tough (mentally) and thick skinned. And perhaps they value their mental health too much to become involved?
These are just a few potential reasons why so few women become trainers and examiners of snowsport instructors but one of the obvious implications is that for women who are training as instructors they will mostly be trained and examined by males and will therefore not have many female role models within the sport. And even for those women who do become examiners how many of them assess the higher certification levels? All of this has the knock on effect of discouraging women from progressing through to the top levels.
Time for change
For me I see the likes of the World Interski Congress as a great place to initiate some of this change and I would love to see a much greater female representation on national demonstration teams at Interski 2023 in Levi, Finland. Of course being on the demo team is not the be all and end all but it is the 'shop window' so to speak and would certainly create some more female role models that could inspire other female instructors to progress further through their national certification pathways.
Going back to Interski 2015, for example, the Australian demo team had NO females! The British team had just three females. For Interski 2019 Australia did have female representation while BASI maintained the same level of three on their demo team. But other countries like Ireland did not do any better - one female out of a 12 strong demo team. While the Swiss team had just one female and this from a country steeped in demo team synchro skiing with lots of female teams! These are just a few examples and there are of course exceptions like Hungary who had a much better male/female balance.
But the message is we can all do better and I think that many associations need to look inwards and ask themselves some searching questions such as;
1) Is the depth of female members not there in our association? e.g. females who have progressed through to a level to be considered for demo team selection.
2) Is the criteria for selection exclusive or inclusive for women?
3) Is the commitment to being in the team excluding female members?
4) Is the climate that is created encouraging women to take part? e.g. is it enjoyable for them?
Perhaps by addressing these questions (and others?) now, female representation on national snowsport demo teams and at the top of national associations will increase and be a change for the better.
Looking forward to peoples thoughts on this one...
Derek is a performance coach and positive psychology practitioner with the Parallel Dreams Coaching Academy with a particular interest in flow and mindfulness and using sport to promote better health and well being for all.