How can winning on the playing field prepare you for success in the boardroom?

The leadership, dedication and ambition women athletes show on the playing field can easily transfer to professional situations.

Women athletes are breaking more barriers than ever before. From equal pay and product endorsements, right through to setting and breaking personal and professional records. However, the challenge which many women athletes face is the lack of opportunities to explore or develop additional skills and expand and broaden their networks. It is for this reason that I am proud to be involved in programs like EY’s Women Athlete Business Network, which have been developed to help these successful women make that transition. 

EY and espnW study


of women executives have a background in sport, and over half participated at university levels.

The link between sport and leadership skills

A global study (pdf) of male and female C-Suite executives conducted by EY and espnW between 2013 and 2016 found an undeniable correlation between athletic and business success:

  • 94% of women executives have a background in sport, and over half participated at university levels
  • 80% of women Fortune 500 executives had played competitive sports
  • 74% of all executives believed playing sports helps a woman progress faster
  • 61% of the women executives who responded believed playing sports contributed positively to their career success and advancement

In countries such as the US, where Title IX regulations require equal opportunities in athletics for both boys and girls; girls’ participation in sports starts early and continues throughout their primary and secondary school years. Such robust national programs are encouraging participation and creating role models for girls to follow into the sporting arena.

In 2019, 42.7% of US high school athletes were girls. In Australia, the level of participation is even higher at 55%.1 In China only 14% of women between the ages of 16 and 29 did not play sports at school, a figure that contrasts with that of Japan, where up to 84% are dissuaded from participating in sport.2

Our actions

In my work with the EY Women’s Athletes Business Network, I’ve seen many remarkable women come to the end of their athletic careers and struggle to start another. By working closely with our Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ program here in Japan, we’ve helped these athletes grow their businesses or successfully enter the professional workforce. When these women athletes share their stories, they are also breaking down barriers in how young women and girls see future opportunities – that one can be a top athlete and a successful businesswoman – particularly in economies and cultures that don’t have many female role models in either field.

Since 2016, EY has hired 19 athletes and continues to mentor many others as they start their businesses or new careers with other organizations. In 2018 alone, 24% of our athlete mentees began their own businesses. This number continues to rise.

Collaborating with the Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ team here in Japan, our athlete mentees build relationships and connections with women entrepreneurs who lead high growth enterprises. The same attributes that make our women athlete mentees successful are present in the Winning Women™: focus, determination, resilience and a strong desire to achieve their goals.

What can you do?

  • Recognize competitive athletes as potential employees with strong skills in collaboration, teaming, leadership and goal orientation
  • Encourage young girls and women to play sports at any competitive level
  • Sponsor and support women’s sporting events and leagues
  • Purchase goods and services from female entrepreneurs

We call upon individuals and organizations to take action, to say, “We are the answer”.

Through Women. Fast forward, we are proud to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, by promoting the advancement of women in the workforce. Together, let’s make sure she is the answer. Let’s make sure #SheBelongs. Discover more:


The correlation between athletic and business success is undisputable, the EY Women’s Athletes Business Network is a global program to support elite athletes as they move from careers in sport to careers in business. The program presents women with opportunities to develop additional skills and expand their professional networks.