Friday 14th of October 2022

EASE TALKS n°3 – The feminization of the workforce in the sport sector in Europe

The question of feminization of the workforce in the European sport sector is one of the main preoccupations of sport employers. The analysis led by EOSE through the European project ESSA-Sport (on which you can find more information here), about the main tendencies of the workforce in the European sport sector, has helped to raise awareness on this issue. It appears that the feminization of the workforce is a priority for most sport institutions.

The ESSA-Sport conclusions show inequalities between women and men in access to employment. In 2018, women represented 45.6% of the workforce in the sport sector, whereas they were 46.2% of the workers in the overall workforce. After the COVID-19 crisis, these figures decreased again: women represented 44.1% of the workforce of the sport sector in 2020 in Europe. The categories of workers that were the most impacted are young workers and young female workers: the employment rate of these categories respectively decreased by 7.9% and by 17.5% between 2019 and 2020, whereas it only decreased by 3.5% for workers between 25 and 49 years old.

At national level, the situation can be different depending on each country, even though gender balance isn’t reached everywhere (source: European Observatoire on Sport and Employment (EOSE) / ESSA-Sport project ( :

Further than these constatations, sport companies and institutions are committed to solving this problem.

The main tool used to achieve parity is the public action, with the use of quotas. In France and in Finland, quotas have been implemented in public institutions, that are some of the main actors of the sport system. As a matter of fact, the Act on Equality between Women and Men has been adopted in 1986 in Finland: this law implements a proportion of men and women in municipal and intermunicipal bodies being at least 40%. This directly impacts the employment in the sport sector, as municipal bodies are the main responsible actors for the Finnish sport sector. In France, a new sports law has been passed in 2022 and it imposes quotas for federations: governing bodies of all national sports federations must respect gender parity from January 2024 and the parity will be extended to their regional entities as of January 2028. These laws have a direct impact on public sport institutions and the biggest private companies, but their impact is more limited regarding the actors of the sport movement that are small private entities, like clubs or associations. For example, in Belgium, fitness clubs or sport associations are non-profit, and they are not part of the scope of application of these laws. The same constatations are applicable in many countries, as quotas mainly apply to public organisations and part of the biggest private entities. However, quotas remain a very efficient tool to progress towards parity: for example, in Finland, women constituted 21% of the members of municipal boards in 1993 whereas they represented 48% of municipal board members in 2011.

Even though the main impulse comes from public authorities, sport employers are conscious that inclusion is an important topic. Even without formalized agreements or documents, they are encouraged to take up these issues, notably through the various laws adopted at the national level. Indeed, the law on quotas in municipalities introduced in Finland is reused as an example by many private sport employers, that are vigilant about having equal salaries and gender equality among their employees. In France, the French employers’ association COSMOS created a working group on feminisation in 2021, to encourage a reflexion for a more inclusive workforce in terms of gender, and numerous sport structures already have a feminization referent in their organisation. Apart from these specific initiatives, sport employers are aware of this issue and develop the reflection on any kind of mechanism that may help increasing the inclusiveness of the sports sector workforce.

Other biases still exist, especially regarding the balance among sport-specific and non-sport specific occupations. Indeed, employment in the sport sector refers to a great variety of occupations. Part of these occupations are sport-specific occupations, such as athletes, coaches and officials or fitness instructors, but the sport sector also includes workers with non-sport-specific occupations, like managers, health professionals, journalists, bus drivers, secretaries, or accountants. This lack of balance in the repartition of the occupations between men and women is global at European level, as it has been highlighted by the ESSA-Sport project: even if women are joining the sport workforce, they are more often participating in non-sports occupations, as receptionists, management or marketing staffs. This is particularly true in the fitness sector, where female coaches are rarer ones than male coaches, except for female connotated sports. For instance, in Flanders, in Belgium, female coaches are very active in the sports that female athletes participate in the most often: the highest percentage of female coaches are found in gymnastics (79%) or dance (71%), whereas in male-connotated sports, such as soccer, and handball, female coaches represent around 4% of the coaches. This lack of inclusiveness among sport-specific positions or decision-making positions also needs reflection, IHRSA, EASE’s member which is gathering employers from the fitness industry, is holding an annual global conference and a women’s leadership summit to encourage the employment and the leadership of women in the fitness sector. This is one of the various mechanisms that can be implemented by sport employers to encourage the formation and the employment of women at sport-specific occupations and decision-making positions.

After this analysis, it appears that each country implements different mechanisms to encourage gender balance. Even without any European legislation on quotas or minimum requirements for women employment, employers are willing to discuss and find solutions to improve the inclusiveness of the workforce in the sport sector. Many mechanisms can be implemented to do so, and EASE aims at contributing to a better inclusiveness of the sports sector, with its projects. Indeed, the BeST Inclusion project, that wishes to promote the inclusiveness around gender in the workforce of the sport sector, will help creating a platform for sport employers to exchange best practices and recommendations about gender balance and employment in the sport sector.