Female leadership seems to be a hot topic with the recent election in the United States and it got me thinking about women leaders represented in the fitness industry. My experience in the personal training sector revealed a lack of women in leadership roles, and this seems to have been consistent over the past 20 years.
As my experience expanded, I noticed the number of women in senior management positions like VPs and Executives dwindled even further. It seemed that turning up to a board meeting meant being a minority.
So, what gives?
Are there enough opportunities for women to take the lead and make the critical decisions in this industry and is there a benefit to encouraging female leaders?
- The rate that women progress into leadership roles.
- How women leaders can equal profits.
- Steps to create more leadership roles in the fitness industry.
Opportunities to Lead
Let’s address the opportunities available to women for leadership across industries. PayScale.com cited in their article Gender Pay Gap Ratios, Stats and Infographics (2017) that "women are significantly less likely than men to hold management roles." Yet, their research also showed that "at the start of their careers, men and women tend to work at similar job levels, most often entering the workforce at the individual contributor level."
The fitness industry also has a relatively even playing field with entry-level positions. In Australia, 40% of the management roles go to women and 60% to men. Both males and females progress into the manager functions and eventually to director- and executive-level roles, but men appear to jump into these positions at significantly higher rates than women. According to the same study, men are 85% more likely than women to be VPs or C-Suite Execs by mid-career, and 171% more likely to hold those positions late into their career (“Gender Pay,” 2017).
When I read these stats the first question I asked was, why?
Is this some, primitive, hormone-based result? Men, with their extra dose of testosterone love the “hunt” and thrive in the “pack”?
Does this have anything to do with women taking time out from their career to raise their children?
Are there unconscious biases at work here that guide our decisions (both men and women) to have more men in leadership roles?
The more I think about these questions, the more I realise, there are probably several answers and no one solution to increasing the number of female leaders; so, let's speak in a language that all successful business owners understand: Results!
Insights from an Industry Leader
In a review of a study by the Petersen Institute for International Economics in Forbes Magazine, Adamy (2016) discussed how having female executives can impact a company’s bottom line. In the study, researchers analysed 21,980 public companies around the world and found that companies where women filled 30% of leadership roles had a 6% higher net profit margin.
Is this a pipe dream or can we achieve a more even playing field?
I wanted to get input from a top female leader in the industry to perhaps get some clues into this mystery. Is the fitness industry just suited to a male boss, part and parcel of pumping iron and bulking up or is there more to it?
Cathy Spencer Browning, VP of Training & Programming for MOSSA took some time out of her CRAZY schedule to share her thoughts on the topic (personal communication, February 4, 2017).
How do you think leadership for women in the fitness industry has changed in the last 20 years?
In the last 20 years, there has been some change in basic organisational structure with the addition of Fitness Managers who may oversee PT and Small Group Training. This position might sit on the same level as say a Group Fitness Director. Also, we might see a Fitness Director who oversees Group, Small Group and PT. I would suggest the later is a little less common. Unfortunately, though, from my experience only, it seems like the roles are still typically males over fitness and women over Group Fitness.
In what areas of the fitness industry do you see the most female leaders?
I would say typically over Group Fitness. Naturally and primarily Group Fitness is a female dominated service with the majority of instructors and participants being females.
I think the Fitness Industry needs to broaden its horizons for it to have more opportunities for upward mobility. The Fitness Industry competes with itself not only in the industry – Facility against the facility but also within a facility – Group Fitness versus PT or Group Fitness versus Small Group. With this kind of scarcity mentality, we just shoot ourselves in the foot. The Fitness Industry should be the Wellness or Health Industry. We should focus on more than just fitness. If this happens, then there will be more opportunities for growth and more skills and training that can apply to what we do. If we continue to focus on just getting the fit fitter, our industry will get smaller and smaller and fewer opportunities will be available.
What has social media and Instagram done for female leaders in the industry?
I have mixed feelings about this. Of course, all social media has its pros and cons. Pros are obvious more exposure, more marketing potential. The negatives from my viewpoint are that it breeds a very superficial, body focused industry where we exercise because there is a chance for a six pack. Exercise needs to connect to so many more important things such as longevity, health, wellness, and happiness. Very rarely do you see any social media related to the psychological benefits of exercise? I often see abuse of influence. An individual with a captive audience – preaching in a way that makes it seem like they have "the answer," the perfect formula…the best diet, the perfect exercise. We know that this is DOGMA and it just makes the industry look bad. If you are every wondering if this is the case, then consider what happens when someone on a flight somewhere asks what you do and when you respond I work in fitness or the fitness industry, they then say, "well how do I get rid of my tire” (person grabbing stomach). Comments like this confirm how we have backed ourselves into a corner and continue to do so.
What advice would you give young women starting out in the industry?
I think the most important thing for a woman to do is to train in leadership and communication skills. At the end of the day, the industry is a people industry, whether that is the staff delivering the experiences to the consumer or the relationships with your team. Everything comes down to these two skills. Knowing the specs of a squat get's you so far, the rest of it is communication. If you want to influence behaviour for the better, well, you better "get" people. You better be good at inspiring self-motivation. I believe so many people become almost over qualified in the area of "exercise" and under qualified in the field of leading people. If you want to lead a team of people working with you towards a common goal, then you better work at becoming somebody that people LOVE to work for (or with). At MOSSA we are as passionate about being a great company that we hope our employees love to work for, as we are about our cause of getting more people moving. WHY? We know the latter can't happen without the former.
Perhaps this industry needs to recognise that we are limiting our reach by promoting only the aesthetic effects of exercise.
Maybe we need more people beating the drum of wellness and vitality to expand the industry to be inclusive of typical "non-exercisers."
And if we grow our reach, can’t we can create more opportunities for leadership for both men and women?
And still, maybe we need to be more aware of the women who are missing from our boardrooms.
As women, we need to stand up, step in and contribute because, as an industry that serves so many women, there are many people counting on us.
Adamy, J. (2016, February 08). Companies Where More Women Lead Are More Profitable, a New Report Says. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2016/02/08/companies-where-more-women-lead-are-more-profitable-a-new-report-says/
Gender Pay Gap Ratios, Stats and Infographics. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.payscale.com/data-packages/gender-pay-gap