Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts




Dr. Jim Weese


Many women enter graduate and undergraduate sport management degree programs to prepare for leadership positions in sport (Brassie, 1989). However, in professional sport in North America, the proportion of women advancing to senior roles is comparatively small. Previous research (Berry & Franks, 2010; Dreher, 2003; Lough & Grappendorf, 2007; Sartore & Cunningham, 2007) and a review of the company directories all confirm that a relatively small proportion of women hold senior leadership roles at either the league or team levels. In fact many teams do not have a single woman in a senior leadership role in spite of the fact that our top universities have been producing graduates in the area for decades. A number of researchers (Burton, 2015; Hardin, 2004; Hums & Grappendorf, 2007; Inglis, Danylchuk & Pastore, 2000; Masteralexis, Barr & Hums, 2011; Moore, Parkhouse & Konrad, 2010; Shaw & Frisby, 2006) have investigated the experience of female leaders in sport, but to date, researchers have not focused on the experiences of women holding senior leadership roles within professional sport in Canada.

The researcher conducted a descriptive research study designed to explore and describe the career experiences of women holding senior leadership positions in professional sport in Canada. Data were gathered through a qualitative data collection process designed to uncover the experiences of women holding these roles. In addition, the researcher sought to secure expert opinion on future activities, policies and practices that may help alleviate the underrepresentation in the future. All of the women (N=7) holding these senior leadership roles were invited to participate in the study. Each woman was interviewed and asked pre-tested, semi-structured and open-ended questions designed to uncover their leadership development, career experiences, and advancement strategies. A pilot study was conducted in advance of the research study to pre-test all of the research procedures and research instruments. The findings of this research were compared to the growing literature bases in both the leadership development and women in leadership areas.[G1] [G2]

The results of this study confirm that although there have been many advances for women in sport leadership, there are still limitations for those seeking to advance to senior leadership levels. Each participant experienced obstacles and varying degrees of discrimination throughout their career. However they persevered to advance their professional careers. Most of all, the results of this study confirmed the perception that a “leaky pipeline” exists in professional sport as it does in other industries (Hancock & Hums, 2016). These women believe that some of their female colleagues prematurely defect from their careers in sport, and as a result women are not proportionately represented in senior leadership candidate pools. According to these women, others may not secure diverse enough experiences and/or don’t develop professional networks and advocates. The study participants unanimously believe that change is necessary, and consequently, they offer a helpful suggestion based on their experience. These women also believe that modified human resource procedures might keep women in the candidate pools and help women better prepare for senior-level leadership positions in sport.

The findings of this research study will help sport management academicians; sport policy makers and sports leaders better understand and address the situation. A number of empirically-based recommendations to facilitate improved leadership development and placement of women in senior leadership roles in professional sport in Canada is also proposed.