UKA update on project to achieve gender equity in high performance coaching

Following on from the publication of the research paper "Achieving Gender Equity in High Performance Athletics Coaching in the UK", UKA is pleased to offer the latest update in progress on this subject.

In February 2021, the Female Coaching Network (FCN) published the paper which highlighted several serious issues faced by female coaches in the sport and some reasons behind the lack of female coaches in performance coaching.

The report prepared by The Research Centre for Social Justice in Sport & Society at Leeds Beckett University highlighted several key findings including:

  • a lack of female team coaches on GB & NI International teams; including no female representation amongst team coaching staff at a World, European or Olympic team
  • a culture of performance coaching underpinned by unequal gendered assumptions
  • that coaching in the UK is under-professionalised and unregulated
  • there is a culture of poaching athletes
  • minoritised status of women coaches
  • incidents of sexual harassment and abusive coaching environments

UKA and the HCAF's have been supportive of the findings of the report, implementing several immediate changes including zero tolerance policies and lifetime bans for abusive coaches, as well as the inclusion of female coaches on GB & NI teams since the 2021 Indoor season.

With this in mind however, UKA and the HCAFs recognised there were some failings in addressing gender equity in coaching that still require attention and have been working in consultation with the FCN to ensure further progress is made, including taking on board further feedback from female coaches who continue to bring live examples of ongoing challenges to their attention.

Beth Harris, a Performance Pole Vault Coach & Sports Development Professional who has also been Chair at Club, regional and national level, has been monitoring the progress of change since the publication of the research. She has liaised with UKA and England Athletics to communicate her observations and experiences and to encourage the development of transparent and equitable systems and practices. With valuable feedback such as this from current coaches it is clear it will provide clarity of the coaching pathway, a more positive experience for all coaches, and will lead to a more equal balance of male and female coaches.

Beth said:

"I am heartened by UKA’s response to the FCN research, published in February 2021, and our discussions over the past 4 months, not least their review of operational practices for improvement, support, and training. I look forward to seeing significant cultural change as a result, with UKA truly held accountable to their Gender Equity in Coaching Action Plan and likewise HCAFs to their own ED&I Action Plans.

“I believe it’s important for our governing bodies to recognise that good practice starts within and with self. As such, with a far greater understanding of equitable marketing, social media, communication, and recruitment, now commonly available across the sector, it is time for up to date working practices to be implemented by all, not just the conscientious few, with staff supported and confident in recognising and challenging inequitable processes.

“Simple improvements to aspects such as heightened awareness of how to avoid repeated biases in recruitment practices or failing to understand the impact of poor media and social media practices, can make a real difference to those on the ground when implemented properly.

“When addressing inequality, there is often a risk of focusing solely on targeted campaigns or programmes to increase the number of active coaches within a marginalised group, as opposed to looking at the root behaviours and practices of those running such programmes. As such I’m pleased to see implementation of training for all employed staff, and hope that this will go some way to help mitigate against adverse and negative impacts to those on the ground."

UKA and EA greatly appreciate the feedback and suggestions Beth has made and are appealing for more coaches to come forward with feedback that can help by highlighting more areas for improvement.

Jackie Newton, UKA Head of Coaching Development said:

“I would like to thank Beth for getting in touch, raising her concerns and suggesting where improvements can be made, and how best to approach them. By having critical and constructive eyes out on the groundwe can address any issues and share those findings for the benefit of all. Beth’s feedback to us has prompted deep discussion between UKA and the HCAFs. We believe that collective learning will help us all to improve.

“As well as long-term plans to embed ED&I, with a shared understanding of inclusion, throughout our organisations, we are making short-term commitments to develop and drive forward our Gender Equity Plans. Beth has pointed out, and we recognise, that there are people within our teams who are beacons of great practice but that we are not all at the same starting point. Our aim is to amplify their voices, raising more awareness and implement training for our staff and employed coaches.

“At UKA, we are due to bring news of our Gender Equity in Coaching Action Plan within the next few weeks. We will bring details of tactics and projects that will embed gender equity into our DNA, redefine who is considered the ‘norm’ as a coach, improve communication and engagement and bring together a more collaborative coaching community. As part of the aim to improve engagement we will create a dedicated channel for coaches to report their observations on our progress.

“We welcome all coaches coming forward with questions, as well as highlighting any concerns so that we can adapt and learn from them. We will also welcome good news, recognition of positive practice and any other feedback on what we are doing well.  With this input we will accelerate our progress and so I ask you to continue to hold us to account as the faster we learn, the faster we will succeed and change the status quo.”

Sarah Benson, Head of Talent Development at England Athletics said:

“England Athletics is committed to creating a cultural change in the coaching landscape.  The published England ED&I Action plan is the system wide plan to which we are held accountable, but in addition we are committing to ED&I training of all staff and people who deliver programmes and activities for us to establish clear leadership in this space.  The existing balance of women and people from diverse backgrounds, especially at the higher levels of performance coaching is not reflective of our sport or wider society and we need to accelerate the change.

“England Athletics has aimed to address gender inequality through the sport with specific women’s programmes and actions including, set up the England Athletics Women in Coaching Programme, supported the UK Coaching Women in High Performance Coaching Programme, increased the number of women coaches on England Teams and Talent Pathway Programmes, promoted the Educare course on Equality and Diversity in sport, and have positive promotion guidelines in our publicity of coaching opportunities. If we have fallen short in modelling good practice and not adhered to our published guidance and expected practice we will review this and ensure that we do better.

“We welcome communication and feedback on all our activities so we can continue to build on the work being done alongside UKA, the other Home Country Athletics Federations (HCAFs), and our partners. We remain as determined as ever to lead positive change in our sport, through close collaboration and consensus, and recognise there is still much work to do.

“I would like to thank Martin Rush, our outgoing Head of Coaching and Athlete Development and his team for the work that has happened in this area to date.”

In March 2022, the UKA Board agreed to the delivery of the UKA Gender Equity in Coaching Action Plan, developed in consultation with the Female Coaching Network. This plan and its aims will be announced later this month.