Good Sports – Why Sports need to Engage Female Volunteers


Date of Publication:     2017
Authors:                       Leeds Beckett University UK
Published by:              Sport England

View the full report

Sport volunteering attracts a less diverse population generally, with volunteers more likely to be male, white, and from a higher socioeconomic background. This study undertook exploratory research to find out more about the experiences of women as sports volunteers, with a view to understanding, and ultimately correcting, the gender imbalance.

The authors reviewed existing research before speaking to 54 volunteers in various sports organisations between December 2016 and January 2017. This included both men and women, to find out about their motivations and aspirations as volunteers, as well as the benefits and challenges they faced.  

Results indicated a number of problems associated with volunteering; for example, men were more likely than women to be coaches and to undertake decision making roles such as Chair of the board. Women were more likely to undertake ‘support’ roles. Gender discrimination based on unequal and discriminatory expectations of women appear to be at their strongest within core sports, particularly those associated with male participation such as boxing and rugby.

Why do women volunteer?  Intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, motivation was the main hook for women to start and continue volunteering. Men were motivated by their interest in sport, ‘perks’ associated with volunteering, and the opportunity to support their community. Women reported that they volunteered for reasons relating to personal or career development, the opportunity to develop social networks, and to support their children. Flexible and inclusive volunteering was also important to women; they valued volunteering that could fit around their lives.

Recommendations included:

  • Improving internal practices (eg, auditing volunteer roles to see how much they reflect gender stereotypes).
  • Improving external communications (eg, avoiding gender stereotypes in one’s communications).
  • Improving flexibility (eg, changing meeting times to suit people with families).
  • Encouraging women to apply for roles with more responsibility.