Sport is a critical lever in advancing women at all levels, according to new EY/espnW report

Dana Point, 14 October 2015

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Today, the EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW released a new report that analyzes how sport primes women for leadership while boosting career opportunities and earning power.

The report also highlights the “virtuous cycle” that results from female athletes winning medals in the Olympics and provides four key steps that both business and political leaders can take to support the role of sport in advancing more female leaders globally.

“For companies and countries that are serious about wanting to advance more women into leadership roles, you can’t underestimate the role of sport in closing the gender gap,” said Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair, EY Public Policy and a US Title IX scholarship recipient. “The global fight for gender parity is predicted to take at least 80 more years. Sport can help us speed up the clock by vaulting women onto a more level playing field.”

The report, which includes a compilation of new and previous research, includes data around the advantages for women at all levels – from girls to rising young leaders to C-suite executives:

“The evidence is clear: Sports matter,” said Laura Gentile, Vice President and Founder of espnW and a US Title IX scholarship recipient. “Participating in sports has a deep and definitive impact on the course of a woman’s life, and we can see from the research that sports help to provide women with the tools we need to succeed and lead.”

The report also includes new findings from a Peterson Institute for International Economics study, commissioned by EY, that tracks women’s athletic participation and success at the Summer Olympic Games between Rome 1960 and London 2012 – the first year in the history of the modern Games that all countries competing included women in their delegations. Among the findings:

  • Whether a female athlete participates in the Games or wins a medal is a complex product of a country’s socio-economic environment and factors are different from those that govern men’s success in sports.
  • Women who had even slightly higher education and greater participation in the labor force won more medals in Olympic events. This was the case even for modestly sized delegations from small or poor countries.
  • Factors such as better education, more labor force participation, good health and the percentage of the population that is urbanized lead to more medals for women in Olympic events.
  • Furthermore, the Peterson study notes, the effect of simply witnessing more women in the arena or on the pedestal cannot be ignored. Women’s success at the Games can lead to what the researchers call a “virtuous cycle” of enhanced perceptions of women, which in turn can contribute to changes in public policy.

“London 2012 marked a historic moment in the Olympic movement with women athletes participating from every nation that sent a delegation. And now, for the first time in Olympic history, four members of the International Olympic Committee Executive Board are women,” said Donna de Varona, an Olympic Champion and Lead Advisor for the EY Women Athletes Business Network. “These athletes and leaders are transforming the Olympic landscape – which we now know has a positive ripple effect in society that is much broader.” 

The EY and espnW report concluded that increasing gender parity, including women’s participation in sport, does not lend itself to simple solutions. Yet there are four steps both business and political leaders can take to support the role of sport in advancing more female leaders around the world:

  • Support girls’ and women’s sports programs from the ground up. Companies should support NGO’s focused on helping advance girls through sport as part of their broader corporate responsibility and gender parity agenda.
  • Drive understanding of why sports matter. More research should be conducted by both the public and private sector to highlight the vital connection between sport and leadership for girls and women. EY’s Women Athletes Business Network and espnW work to showcase new research and facilitate the dialogue about the advantages that women athletes bring to companies and countries globally.
  • Identify athletes in your talent pipeline. Working with college athletic departments can help businesses spot potential talent – in particular, that of female student athletes, who research has shown are more likely to make it to top leadership.
  • Ensure accountability for gender parity. When opportunities arise, enlist female sport figures as role models to tell their stories of triumph and determination. For example, consider female sports figures to ‘headline’ corporate events. Organizations should also support their female athletes internally. Celebrating and supporting these stories is a great opportunity for employee engagement and engenders a sense of pride in women who strives for excellence inside and outside of their organization.


Notes to editors

About EY

EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and quality services we deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. We develop outstanding leaders who team to deliver on our promises to all of our stakeholders. In so doing, we play a critical role in building a better working world for our people, for our clients and for our communities.

EY refers to the global organization, and may refer to one or more, of the member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each of which is a separate legal entity. Ernst & Young Global Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, does not provide services to clients. For more information about our organization, please visit

This news release has been issued by EYGM Limited, a member of the global EY organization that also does not provide any services to clients.

About espnW

espnW serves women who love sports. provides an engaging environment that offers total access to female athletes and the sports they play, takes fans inside the biggest events and shares a unique point of view on the sports stories that matter most to women. Founded in July 2010, espnW lives across television, films, events, digital and social platforms. The annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit is the leading event of its kind in the sports industry.

About EY’s Women Athletes Business Network (WABN)

WABN’s goal is to create an environment that supports elite female athletes who seek to develop their leadership potential beyond their sporting careers.For more information on EY’s Women Athletes Business Network, please visit: