Centre of Social Justice in Sport and Society

Improving gender equity within sport coaching workforces

Novel research and expertise to support changes in sport organisational strategic thinking, interventions, and organisational practices in reconceptualising the issue of an underrepresentation of women coaches.

Improving gender equity within sport coaching workforces

the challenge

Despite the gradually increasing participation of women in sport, women remain under-represented as sport coaches at regional, national and global levels.

Women also often report poor professional experiences.

Professor Leanne Norman’s research is tackling this lack of diversity and inclusion in coaching, which has historically been a profession dominated by white, non-disabled men.



The focus of the research is improving gender equity in sport coaching, grounded in the awareness that we don’t have enough diversity within sports coaching workforces in the UK.

It aims not just to improve the representation of different groups of women but also to make it a better place to work for everybody. In the most extreme cases the research has come across safeguarding issues, highlighting the problem of having a numerical dominance of one particular social group.

To make long term and sustainable change Professor Norman and her team take a deeper dive into the root causes of these issues, rather than just tackling the issue of numerical imbalance. The research used critical and qualitative approaches to tackle the systemic and cultural issues at the heart of the problem.

This qualitative approach consisted mainly of interviews, giving many women a voice that they haven’t had before. Having that platform for people’s voices to be heard is a key tenet of this work.

A key purpose of the work is shifting thinking. Shifting away from just getting more women in place, to what can be done to tackle the root causes of this long-standing problem.

The research challenges who we think of as coaches, what makes good coaching and how we support our coaches.

It also explores how we can improve the workplace experience for existing coaches and how coaching as a profession can be re-imagined, serving a greater number of people.

Expert talking at a conference
Coaching instructing football players


This work has already made a huge impact.

Evidence from this research has been used by national sport organisations and governing bodies to change their approach in improving gender equity within their sport coaching workforces.

For example, it has helped to shape the English FA’s national strategy around women in football coaching.

There has been a visible shift with other sports governing bodies changing the type of coaching programme that they offer, the way that they offer it, and the way that they frame the problem as well.

Another positive impact has been an increase of women coming through.

Professor Norman’s work is now focused on working alongside governing bodies and federations to address this recognised problem and investigate what can be done to tackle this problem together so there is sustainable change.

Contact Professor Leanne Norman

  • Culture and applied social sciences
  • Sport, health and life sciences
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