European Journal of Sport Science

Sport, women, and leadership: Results of a project on executives
in German sports organizations
Institute of Exercise and Sport Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, and 2
Erziehungswissenschaft und Psychologie, Freie Universita¨t Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Throughout the world, women are a small minority within the governing bodies of organized sport. This paper presents the
results of three empirical studies that have been undertaken within a German research project. The representative survey of
all male and female executives in German sports federations (N 697) included questions concerning their sociodemography, their careers as executive members of sports organizations, as well as their careers in sport and their chosen
occupation. The survey reveals significant gender differences in terms of, for example, age, family situation, responsibilities
in the executive committees, duration of office, and career barriers. Furthermore, we conducted 23 in-depth, semistructured interviews with women in leadership positions to explore the women’s individual perspectives. The aim of a
second interview study (‘‘drop-out’’ study) was to identify barriers in the voluntary careers of seven male and nine female
leaders who left office prematurely (i.e. earlier than they had originally planned). These informants can be seen as experts
who have an excellent insight into their organizations and who have also experienced barriers that caused them to ‘‘drop
out’’. The respondents’ statements showed similarities with regard to the socio-economic background but considerable
differences in terms of gender-specific experiences, attitudes, and evaluations. The demands placed on the sports leaders
were much more in line with the biographies of the men interviewed than with the personal circumstances of the women.
Keywords: Female leaders, gender hierarchy, culture of organizations, sports federations, sports organization officials
Throughout the world, women are a small minority
within the governing bodies of organized sport. A
collection of articles on women and sport in 16
countries has shown that, with regard to leading
positions in sport, women are under-represented in
all areas and at all levels (Hartmann & Pfister, 2003).
‘‘Women in Leadership’’ has meanwhile become a
political issue at the international level. In 1996, a
conference supported by the British Sports Council
and the International Olympic Committee (IOC)
endorsed the Brighton Declaration, which aims to
further the participation and improve the status of
women in sport. The Brighton Declaration was
followed by the Windhoek Call for Action in 1998.
Also in 1998 the IOC decided to urge National
Olympic Committees to increase the percentage of
women in executive posts to 20% by the year 2005
(see the IOC’s website)1
. These international initiatives make clear that the dominance of men in
leadership positions is a long-standing and widespread phenomenon that has many different causes
as well as far-reaching effects. Despite the interest in
and discussion of this issue, the reasons for the
disproportionate under-representation of female leaders in sports organizations are far from clear, and
the gender hierarchy in the world of sport is a
contested topic inside and outside the scientific
community of sports scholars. This prompted the
German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior
Citizens, Women, and Youth to promote research
with the aim of analysing gender relations in the
executive bodies of sports organizations, identifying
the reasons for the under-representation of women
and gathering knowledge about male and female
leaders that is, with regard to socio-demographic
issues (education, family, everyday life, and leisure)
Correspondence: S. Radtke, Fachbereich Erziehungswissenschaft und Psychologie, Freie Universita¨t Berlin, Fabeckstr. 69, D-14195 Berlin,
Germany. E-mail:
European Journal of Sport Science, July 2009; 9(4): 229243
ISSN 1746-1391 print/ISSN 1536-7290 online # 2009 European College of Sport Science
DOI: 10.1080/17461390902818286
as well as issues of sports biography, profession, and
career in sports organizations.
In this article, we present some important results of
this project. We focus on gender ratios in the German
sports system and on barriers that may obstruct or at
least hamper access to executive bodies of the federations. In addition, we analyse the characteristics of
leaders, since socio-demographic patterns of leaders
can be used to identify preconditions for aspiring to
and also securing a leading position in the sport
system. At the same time, the analysis of the demands
placed on leaders in German sports and the construction of an ‘‘ideal leader’’ according to the expectations
of various environments allow us to identify those
persons who do not have the right profile and who are
therefore unable or unwilling to take up leading
Mapping the field gender ratios in German
sports organizations
The first step of the research project referred to
above was to carry out a quantitative analysis of
gender ratios in decision-making committees of
German sports organizations at the national and
regional (or, more precisely, federal state) level. This
analysis was based on information from yearbooks
and websites, and revealed the extent to which
women are excluded from leadership positions in
spite of various initiatives undertaken by sports
organizations since the 1950s (Doll-Tepper & Pfister, 2004).
The disparity between intentions and actual development is particularly manifest in the umbrella
organization of German sport, the German Sports
Confederation (DSB), which merged with the
National Olympic Committee (NOC for Germany)
to become the Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund
(DOSB) in 20062
. It is the largest organized body
in the Federal Republic of Germany with roughly
24 million memberships, including approximately
10 million adult males and six million adult females.
Efforts to promote equal opportunities for women
have a long tradition in this association along with its
‘‘Women in Sport’’ committee, which celebrated its
50th anniversary in 2001. Since various plans of
action had largely proved ineffective, the DSB
adopted the following amendment to its statutes at
its 1996 General Assembly: ‘‘Women must be
appointed and voted onto all national committees,
as well as divisional and national boards. Their
proportion will be at least equal to their percentage
of overall membership’’ in the respective organization (Deutscher Sportbund, 2001, p. 50). However,
the same assembly rejected, once again, the petition
that women should be guaranteed a certain share of
the vote at general assemblies. In 2003, the DSB’s
governing body passed a resolution to implement the
strategy of ‘‘gender mainstreaming’’ as a defined
course of action3
What effect did these initiatives, especially the
amendment to the statutes in 1996, have? In 2003,
the DSB’s governing body, its ‘‘presidium’’, was
made up of 11 members, two of whom were women,
one of them the chair of the ‘‘Women in Sport’’
committee. (It is important to note, however, that
the head of the ‘‘Women in Sport’’ committee is an
ex-officio member of the governing body and is
elected by the general assembly of women and not by
the DSB assembly.) In 2003, of a total of 290
executive positions4 recorded in the leading committees at the DSB level, 57 (19.7%) were occupied by
women. A similar under-representation of women is
to be found among the delegates at the DSB’s
General Assembly. This assembly (called Bundestag,
or parliament) is the supreme body within this
umbrella organization and also elects the members
of the president’s committee. From the 1970s until
2002, the percentage of female delegates participating in these assemblies increased from 5.2 to 17.9%
(140 delegates).
The decision-making committees and positions at
the regional level of sports administration show
similar gender ratios to those of the DSB committees. The regional sports associations of the German
federal states (Landesssportbu¨nde) are headed by 18
men and one woman. In the executive bodies of
these regional associations the proportion of positions held by women is 20.1%5
. Altogether, there are
2726 leadership positions at different levels and in
different areas of the regional sports associations, of
which 14% are occupied by women.
The discrepancy between the percentages of men
and women on the governing boards of the 55
national sports federations is even more striking. In
the highest executive bodies, 91% of the 682
positions are occupied by men, and only 9% by
women. The proportion of women in leadership
positions varies between 0 and 39%6
. In all federations, the percentage of female leaders is significantly smaller than the percentage of female
members, and it decreases as the status of the
positions increases. The best example of the increasing marginalizsation of women is to be seen
in the holders of the top position: in 2002 only four
of 55 national sports federations had a woman
In the following, we present and discuss the
possible causes of this gender imbalance in German
sport against a backdrop of theoretical approaches
to gender issues and on the basis of empirical
230 G. Pfister & S. Radtke
Theoretical considerations of gender, work,
and organizations
Social construction of gender
Our theoretical point of departure in examining the
gender hierarchy in the executive bodies of sport is
the perception of gender as a social construct.
Constructivist gender theories have laid the foundation for a theoretical framework that includes general
approaches towards explaining gender segregation in
(paid and voluntary) work and the gendered culture
of organizations. In our discussion of gender and the
gender order, we draw on such scholars as Judith
Lorber (1994, 2000, 2005) and Robert Connell
(2002), who consider gender to be a relational
process and a social construction embedded in all
institutions and areas of life, from work and language
to sexuality and sport. According to Rakow, ‘‘gender
is both something we do and something we think
with, both a set of social practices and a system of
cultural meaning’’ (Rakow, 1986, p. 19). In lifelong
processes of socialization, via self-training in and
through cultural practices, men and women appropriate and ‘‘embody’’ gender, enacting it in everyday
interactions and situations (Connell, 2002). The
gender order provides the ideals, norms, and rules
(or, using Goffman’s favourite metaphor, the
‘‘scripts’’) for individual ‘‘roles’’, images, and identities and for ‘‘doing gender’’.
By regarding gender as a binary construct, even
when we simply use the terms ‘‘men’’ and ‘‘women’’,
we make use of categories that cement gender
differences and construct women as the ‘‘other’’
sex. This leads to a dilemma since, if we wish to
investigate gender relations and gender hierarchies,
we must analyse differences. In our approach to
gender hierarchies, we explore and analyse gender
differences without assuming these differences to be
natural, essential or biological. Using gender as a
concept of relations, we explore the influences of one
group on the other, the meaning of the differences,
and the impact of the representations of the differences. In addition, we are fully aware of the
diversities that exist both among women and among
Recent discussion of the meaning of gender has
revealed the ‘‘whiteness’’ of existing research, focusing as it does on the experiences and conditions of
life of Western middle-class women. Acker (1999),
Nash (2008), and Scraton (2001), among others,
have emphasized that gender, race/ethnicity, and
class intersect, and have demanded that the multiple
differences among women and among men be
addressed, especially with regard to race and sexuality (Nash, 2008; Scraton, Caudwell, & Holland,
2005). Recent approaches in gender research, also in
the area of sport, stress the variety of conventional
and non-conventional ways of constructing, enacting, and living sexualities (Caudwell, 2006). Drawing on current discourses, among others on studies
of inter-sectionality, we understand gender to constitute a binary system of social organization, but we
‘‘recognise that the two genders are not at all
homogenous categories since they are intersected
by other major social statuses racial/ethnic groups,
social class, national identity, religious affiliation
and by individual variations such as age, sexual
orientation, relational and parental statuses, and
physical status’’ (Lorber, 2005, p. 7).
The exploration of diversities with regard to
ethnicities and sexualities did not meet with any
success in our project, however. Our survey revealed
that the executive bodies of German sport were
exclusively composed of men and women of German
nationality and, although we did not explicitly
inquire into the sexual orientation of the respondents, the interviews gave constant evidence of
heteronormativity. Although this is a significant
result in itself, we will not be able to go into
intersections of gender, ethnicities, and sexualities
due to the lack of information in our material.
Theoretical approaches to the labour market
The focus of our research is on the causes of the
gender hierarchy and on the barriers that prevent
women from taking up and pursuing a successful
career in sports organizations. For this reason, we
have combined the concept of gender with theoretical approaches to work that refer not only to paid
work but also to voluntary work in organizations. In
all industrialized countries, the labour market is
characterized by gender-specific horizontal and vertical segregation7 in which women not only are on
the lower rungs of the hierarchies but also form the
majority of workers in fields of work with low pay,
little job security, and few opportunities for promotion (see Pfister, 2004). In contrast, men are to be
found at the top of the hierarchies and in segments
with relatively high incomes and job security
(Achatz, Fuchs, Stebut, & Wimbauer, 2002; European Commission, 2006; Siltanen, Jarman, &
Blackburn, 1995).
Supply-oriented approaches see the reasons for
the gendered patterns of the labour market in the
competences, qualifications, motivations, experiences, and resources that female and male employees
supply, whereas demand-oriented approaches refer
to the demands of the employers (i.e. their expectations, evaluations, ideologies, and beliefs). In both
approaches, gender is a decisive factor. A combination of both perspectives provides the tools for a
broad and at the same time in-depth analysis of
‘‘gender at work’’. The responsibility of women for
Women and leadership in German sports organizations 231
children and the family plays a crucial role not only
in the ‘‘supply of work’’ but also in the attitudes of
employers, who are afraid that women do not meet
the criteria of the ‘‘ideal worker’’, with a lifelong
commitment and a high degree of flexibility and
mobility. Because ‘‘investments’’ like training and
career development do not pay off if the employees
are ‘‘unreliable’’, women are more likely to be
employed at the lower levels of the hierarchies.
According to Acker,
it is the man’s body, its sexuality, minimal
responsibility in procreation, and conventional
control of emotions that pervades work and
organisational processes. Women’s bodies female
sexuality, their ability to procreate and their
pregnancy, breast-feeding, and child care, menstruation and mythic ‘‘emotionality’’ are suspect,
stigmatised and used as grounds for control and
exclusion. (Acker, 1990, p. 153)
Connell (2002, p. 97) emphasizes the importance
of gender relations ‘‘on the large scale’’, especially in
corporations. He comes to the following conclusion:
‘‘Evidently, the reasons for the absence of women
(and minority men) from top management have to
do with … the deeply entrenched patterns of division in the workplace’’ (p. 100).
Sports associations and the cultures of organization
We are convinced that these insights into gender
segregation in the labour market can be applied to
organizations of the ‘‘third sector’’8 even if it
cannot be denied that companies differ from sports
organizations in important respects, and not only
because the former are oriented towards profit
making. Voluntary leaders in sport, for instance,
have great freedom in the decisions they take, and
there are neither clear directives nor any specific
control mechanisms. Success is neither quantifiable
nor can it be clearly attributed to a specific person.
Often tasks are assigned to committees or groups
(Emrich, Papathanassiou, & Pitsch, 1996; Horch,
1992; Winkler, 1988). A further important difference is a fact that sports leaders are elected rather
than appointed, one consequence of this being that
voluntary careers are subject to great uncertainty,
with not only qualifications and competence playing
a role but also a candidate’s networks and his or her
ability to present himself or herself as an ‘‘ideal
leader’’. On the other hand, hierarchies and the
delegation of tasks and duties are to be found in
sports federations just as they are in companies.
Similarities are likewise to be found when sports
federations and companies are viewed as organizations. These have a common goal, to assign work
and benefits to specific positions and operate
according to an organizational logic with regard to
values, rules, and tools for running the organization
(Lehner, 2002). The selection of employees/voluntary leaders by appointment or election, written and
unwritten expectations, the social relations, and the
concrete questions of how, where, when, and (very
importantly) by whom work is done are all part of
the culture of an organization. Recent work on
organizational culture has focused on the values
and symbols as well as the communication and
interactions in organizations, which condense into
the ideals of leaders and workers, their characteristics, their behavior, and their commitment to the
organization (Acker, 1999; Alvesson & Due Billing,
1997; Calas & Smircich, 1996; Mills & Tancred,
1992; Pfister, 2004). At the same time, these
scholars have described how gender becomes ‘‘embedded’’ in organizations that is, how structures,
processes, the organization’s work and norms, power
structures and cultures are gendered (Acker, 1999;
Edwards & Wajcman, 2005; Mu¨ller, 1999).
Drawing on the work of Smith (1989), Benschop
and Doorewaard (1998) explain the invisibility and
the impact of gender by pointing to the ‘‘gendered
subtext’’ that is ‘‘covered by equality’’ but intrinsically interwoven with the structure and culture of
the organization. Subtexts refer to the organization’s hidden arrangements that are, the principles,
measures, and routines that determine the structure,
culture, interactions, and identities in the organization. They reproduce gender differences and hierarchies even though the organization emphasizes
equal opportunity. Typical of this is the construction of the ‘‘ideal leader’’, whose characteristics are
depicted as gender-neutral, even though they correspond to the capabilities and life circumstances of
men. The gendered nature of the organization is
thus masked by the assumption of a disembodied
and universal leader, who is actually a man,
exposing hegemonic masculinity (Acker, 1990;
Bloksgaard, 2008; Connell, 2002; Lister, 2006).
‘‘The theme of women succeeding when they act
‘like men’ is a recurrent one in feminist organizational analysis’’ (Smithson & Stokoe, 2005, p. 148).
As Højgaard (2002) did for positions in top
management, we discuss the cultural construction
of leadership in sport through an analysis of the
patterns of difference between male and female
leaders. The concept of the ‘‘ideal leader’’ will run
like a thread through the presentation and interpretation of our findings. Both approaches, considerations of the labour market as well as those of
organizational culture, can be integrated very well
into a constructivist gender theory.
232 G. Pfister & S. Radtke
Qualitative interviews with women in leadership
positions within sports organizations
We chose a qualitative approach, conducting guideline-based interviews with 23 female leaders at the
regional (federal state) and national levels of German sports organizations. The aim of the qualitative
an interview study was to explore the women’s individual perspectives on leadership and to discover,
among other things, how women in leading positions
manage to combine their occupations, housework,
family responsibilities, leisure activities, and voluntary work. In addition, we explored the aims and
motivations of women in leading positions, there
positive and negative experiences, as well as the
obstacles they had encountered and still faced in
their careers as voluntary leaders. We regarded the
interviewees as experts not only on their own lives
but also in respect of their insider knowledge of both
power relations in executive committees and women’s (and men’s) career advancement opportunities. We conducted problem-centred interviews, in
which the interviewers, with the help of guidelines,
raised issues that were important for the questions of
the study, thus enabling us to compare the statements of the different respondents and thus to be
able to identify similarities and differences between
them and search for patterns and ideal types. In
addition, this kind of interview gives the informants
the opportunity of raising their own questions and
giving their own evaluations and explanations. The
interview guidelines were influenced by the abovementioned aims of the study as well as by our
theoretical considerations, especially the concepts
of gender segregation in the labour market, the
gendered culture of organizations, and the construct
of the ‘‘ideal leader’’.
We contacted a number of female leaders through
their sports federations and, with the help of our first
informants, subsequently found further women who
were willing to talk to us (‘‘snowball sampling’’).
This procedure is a valid method in qualitative
studies. In the selection of our interviewees
(N 23), we took care to include women in different
positions and with different personal circumstances.
The interviews lasted between 60 and 180 min. All
interviews were taped and transcribed. In total,
almost 1000 pages of transcribed material became
available. The interviews were analyzed using qualitative content analysis. According to Altheide (1987,
p. 68), this method, which allows a reduction and
abstraction of the content of a text is used ‘‘to
document and understand the communication of
meaning as well as to verify theoretical relationships’’. Using this method, the texts are divided into
their component parts by means of a hierarchical
system of categories that emerge both from the
questions laid down in the guidelines and from
further topics touched upon in the interviews.
Clarity and inter-subjective verifiability and thus
the objectivity and reliability that is possible in
qualitative research was achieved by the discussion of the categories within the research group. The
texts were coded with the help of MAXqda, a
software program that manages, and thus supports
the analysis of, qualitative data. The matching of the
text passages with the categories were done by the
researchers, difficult and ambiguous text passages
being discussed by the research group. Thus, consistency of the coding was guaranteed. The last step
of the analysis, and the main task of the researchers,
was the theory-guided, hermeneutic search for
structures and correlations in the statements made.
In this respect, interpretation means the disciplined,
intuitive, and controlled attempt to gain understanding (Kvale, 1998; Mayring, 1990; Miles &
Huberman, 1994; Tesch, 1990).
Quantitative survey
The results of the first interview study gave us an
impression of the personal circumstances, motivations, and careers of women in positions of leadership. To place our findings on a broader footing, we
undertook a comprehensive survey that addressed all
men and women in executive positions at the highest
levels of German sport (N 697). The inclusion of
both sexes made it possible to highlight differences
between men’s and women’s opinions and careers
and, as a consequence, to identify the specific
opportunities that women have and the specific
problems they are confronted with. A standardized
the questionnaire was developed on the basis of knowledge derived from the relevant literature and above
all on the basis of the results of the interview study.
The questionnaire was pre-tested among members
of the extended board of a sports club in Berlin and
subsequently modified. It contained 103 predominantly closed questions and addressed the following
areas: socio-demographic factors (age, education,
family, etc.), everyday life and leisure, profession,
sports biography, and career as a leader in sports
organizations (experiences, opportunities, problems,
motives, attitudes, and evaluations). The questionnaire was sent to all 591 male and 106 female
members of the executive bodies of the national
sports organizations, the regional sports associations
(Landessportbu¨nde), the German Sports Confederation (Deutscher Sportbund), and the National Olympic Committee (NOC for Germany). Altogether,
341 men and 72 women returned the questionnaire
(see Table I). The relatively high response rate of
59.3% was achieved because we asked our contacts
Women and leadership in German sports organizations 233
in sports organizations, especially members of the
executive bodies, to drum up support for our survey
and persuade people to take part in it.
Qualitative interviews with male and
female ‘‘drop-outs’’
During the course of the research project, it became
apparent that, to analyze the (gendered) barriers in
voluntary careers, it would be necessary to include
the perspective of ‘‘outsiders’’ (i.e. individuals who
were not members of executive committees). We
wished to discover the reasons why members of
sports associations or federations no longer wanted
to work actively in a voluntary position. Thus, we
decided to interview people who had ‘‘dropped out’’
of leadership that is, people who had, for whatever
the reason, given up their position prematurely. We
assumed that former leaders were people who had
a great deal of experience of, information about, and
insight into sports organizations; who had given
much thought to the advantages and disadvantages
of leadership positions; and who had faced problems
and barriers that ultimately caused them to relinquish their position. In particular, we hoped that the
experiences of female ‘‘drop-outs’’ would help to
identify the structures, practices, and social relations
responsible for the under-representation of women
in the governing bodies of sports organizations. We
decided upon problem-centered qualitative interviews, similar to the ones we had already used in
the first qualitative study, because this approach
allows in-depth insights into and differentiated
analyses of ‘‘drop-out narratives’’, with all their
complexities and ambiguities. With the help of the
above-mentioned ‘‘snowball effect’’, we identified
seven male and nine female ‘‘drop-outs’’ who were
willing to be interviewed. In the course of the last
interviews, it became clear that a theoretical saturation point had been reached (i.e. further interviewees
would not have provided additional insights). The
interviews were analyzed using qualitative content
analysis (see above). They provide an in-depth
understanding of gender-specific drop-out processes, as well as revealing the opportunities and
barriers that male and female leaders encounter in
sports federations.
Results and interpretations
In the following, we present the most important
results of the quantitative survey. After giving a short
overview of the positions held by the male and
female respondents, we focus mainly on the characteristics of the ‘‘ideal leader’’, as constructed in the
organizational culture of sports clubs and associations. We assume that the characteristics of the
current leaders, who went through several elections
processes until they occupied their positions, comply
with the demands and expectations of their organizations and can be considered ‘‘ideal’’ with regard to
their socio-demographic status, their education and
occupation, as well as their sports biography. In
addition, we focus on the barriers encountered by
the leaders on their way to the top and how they
handled conflicts. We will use interview statements
given by the female leaders, as well as by the male
and female ‘‘drop-outs’’, to provide more in-depth
insights into the backgrounds of our target group
and the opportunities they had and the conflicts they
faced. In addition, in each of the following subsections, we provide interpretations of our findings.
Gender hierarchies in executive committees
As mentioned above, the statistics of the sports
federations reveal that the positions and responsibilities in executive committees are allocated according to gender. This was also mirrored in the offices
held by our respondents. Nearly all presidents
(96.6%) were male, and more than 80% of the
officials responsible for top-level sport and finances
were men. These results concur with our assumption
that the important federation departments are male
preserves. The female officials in our sample were
mostly responsible for areas suited to traditional
female roles: one-third of the female members of
executive bodies were in charge of girls/women and
families, while 10% supervised youth and school
sports. Thus, the allocation of responsibilities in the
executive committees of German sport is a reflection
of the gender hierarchies in the labor market and in
society as a whole.
Socio-demography of ‘‘ideal leaders’’
Age structure. Leadership in sports organizations is a
matter of age. The respondents of our quantitative
the survey had an average age of 54.9 years (s 10.9),
and over 80% of the executive board members were
between 41 and 70 years old (see Table II). Only
9.8% of the respondents were 40 years or younger,
even though representatives of youth organizations
sit on the committees of several of the sports
associations included in the study. Women were on
Table I. Questionnaire response rate, according to sex
Females Males Combined
Population (N) 106 591 697
Population (%) 15.2 84.8 100
Feedback/random sample (N) 72 341 413
Random sample response (%) 17.4 82.6 59.3
Response rate (% of sex) 67.9 57.7
234 G. Pfister & S. Radtke
average 5 years younger than their male counterparts
and, from another perspective, with increasing age
the percentage of women decreased. Among the over
70s (N 25), there were 23 males and two females.
[The difference in the average age of male and
female sports leaders is statistically highly significant
(x2 18,780, d.f. 5, P 0,002).]These gender differences can be explained at
least partially by developments and changes in
sport and society. The sport was dominated to an
even greater extent by men 2030 years ago, with
only around 30% of women belonging to sports
organizations (Deutscher Sportbund, 1990). This
means that, at the time when many of the sports
leaders began their careers, relatively few women
stood for office. In addition, one must take into
consideration that leadership positions are mostly
the culmination of a long and continuous commitment to an organization. Careers start at the
club level, and engaging in volunteer work at a
young age may be difficult for women, especially
women with a family. The results of our survey
may also indicate that more women than men are
willing to give up their positions, and also after a
shorter period of service.
Education and occupation. Male and female members
of executive boards show striking similarities with
regard to levels of education and occupation. Both
women and men represent a group of highly
qualified personnel. Most participants in our survey
left school with university entrance qualifications
(62%), and only a single man out of the whole
the sample did not have a school-leaving certificate. The
the high educational level of our sample points to
occupations at the upper end of the employment
hierarchy and, as can be seen from Figure 1, a high
percentage of the executive board members of sports
organizations held leadership positions in their
professions. The difference between men and women was not significant.
The specific expectations of executive bodies of
sports federations with regard to the education
and professions of their leaders can be identified
by comparing the respondents of our study with
the general population. Statistical data reveals that
our respondents were a group of professionals
with considerably higher levels of education and
income than the general population.9 And the
the disparity between the female respondents and the
the female population was even greater than the
education and income gap between our male
respondents and the overall male population.
One of the preconditions of a career in a sports
federation thus seems to be a better-than-average
socio-economic status and this is especially true
for women.
The close correlation between holding office on an
the executive board and high social status has two
complementary explanations. On the one hand,
individuals with a middle- or upper-class background are more willing to engage in voluntary
leadership than people from lower social strata
(Engels, 1991) because (1) they have the necessary
self-confidence and resources and (2) they can
expect an increase in their social and symbolic
‘‘capital’’, as defined by Bourdieu (1984). This
means that leaders of sports organizations can build
up large networks of associates and gain prestige,
influence, and power, which they can transfer to
other areas of life, especially they’re professional
careers. On the other hand, third-sector organizations tend to ‘‘co-opt’’ persons whose skills and
abilities gained in a professional can be used as an
an important resource for the organization. According
to Hovden (2000), an attempt is made to integrate
‘‘heavyweight men’’ (both literally and metaphorically), who increase the organization’s power and
prestige. The ‘‘weight’’ of these often older and
sometimes heavy men is based on a political position
or financial resources, as well as on specific skills and
competences. The following quotations from the
Table II. Age structure, according to sex
Age group Females Males Combined
2730 years N 33 6
% of sex 4.2 0.9 1.5
3140 years N 9 31 40
% of sex 12.7 9.1 9.8
4150 years N 25 64 89
% of sex 35.2 18.9 21.7
5160 years N 22 124 146
% of sex 31.0 36.6 35.6
6170 years N 10 94 104
% of sex 14.1 27.7 25.4
7190 years N 2 23 25
% of sex 2.8 6.8 6.1
Total N 71 339 410
Yes No
Leadership position
Figure 1. Positions of male and female respondents in the labor
Women and leadership in German sports organizations 235
interviews with the female leaders (FL) are typical
examples illustrating the transfer of knowledge and
skills from profession to voluntary position and vice
Everything I learned in my profession I can now
use in my voluntary function … And in my
profession I learned how to deal with people, of
course. (FL14) My voluntary position gave me a
a lot of security. It meant a lot of stress, of course,
because I was often unsure of myself and before I
was able to give a speech or hold my own in a
discussion … well, that I learned through my
voluntary work. (FL15)
A relatively high professional status is thus obviously one of the requirements for occupying a key
position at the executive level of the German sports
system. The expectations with regard to the education and professional position of an ‘‘ideal leader’’
can then function as a barrier that effectively denies
access to executive bodies to those who do not meet
these criteria. This is an important concern for both
men and women. It must be taken into consideration, however, that considerably fewer women than
men hold positions of leadership in the working
world, meaning that the pool of recruitment for
voluntary workers in sport is dominated by men.
The question also arises as to whether the high level
of qualification expected of an ‘‘ideal leader’’ kills off
any aspirations that women (as well as men) with
only a limited amount of social and cultural capital
may have of a voluntary career in sport.
Marital status and family situation. As Figure 2 shows,
only 57% of the female respondents, versus 87% of
the male respondents were married, and more
women than men were divorced. Whereas 20% of
female executives had no partner, only 6% of the
male executives were single.
When one compares the marital status of the male
and female respondents with that of the population
as a whole, it is notable that only in the case of the
women were there any considerable difference, afar
a larger percentage of female leaders of sports federations being single than in the population as a whole.
In contrast, the men we interviewed lived with a
(married) partner just as frequently as the rest of the
male population. Thus, the members of the executive
bodies in sports organizations exhibited similarly
gender-specific patterns of marital status to those
of men and women in leading positions in other
areas of society. According to the information available, ‘‘career women’’ (top managers, scientists,
politicians, etc.) differ from their male counterparts
in respect of their marital status. In other words,
single women are over-represented among career
women (Wirth & Du¨mmler, 2004; Biller-Adorno,
Hence, one can assume that it is more difficult for
women than for men to combine voluntary leadership with a partnership or from a different
the perspective can be supposed that women without
partners have more time and/or energy to engage in
volunteer work. Our interviewees living with a
partner agreed that voluntary work made demands
on their time ‘‘at the expense of family life’’ (FL2).
For instance, ‘‘holidays had to fit in with voluntary
work’’ (FL1), and there was rarely time, said another
interviewee, ‘‘to unwind’’ with one’s partner. One’s
whole private life was ‘‘a very limited space’’ (FL18).
As numerous studies in various areas of employment have also shown, climbing the career ladder
depends to a considerable extent on the support of
the partner, mostly the wife, who relieves her
successful husband of the household chores does
the housework, and brings up the children and
possibly gives up her own career to further that of
her husband. The reversal of these roles is still
very rare (for an overview, see Geissler, Maier, &
Pfau-Effinger, 1998; see also Bloksgaard, 2008). Not
many men are prepared to sacrifice their own careers
to support a more successful partner (see, among
others, Mu¨ller, 1999; Pfau-Effinger, 1998). It is
therefore not surprising that women in leadership
positions from science and academia to politics and
business (and including third-sector organizations
such as sports associations) are single significantly
more often than their male counterparts. It may be
assumed that the ‘‘single’’ status of the ‘‘ideal’’
the female leader has an adverse effect on the recruitment of women for positions of leadership.
For those women living in a relationship, opportunities and challenges depend to a large degree on
the attitudes and behavior of their partners. In our
the survey, most of the women (66% of those in a
relationship) reported that their partners approved
of their voluntary work. In contrast, only 41% of the
men mentioned the positive role of their partners in
connection with their leadership position. In addition, the survey revealed that there was a significant
Unmarried Married Divorced Widowed
Figure 2. Marital status of male and female leaders in sport.
236 G. Pfister & S. Radtke
difference between women and men with regard
to the voluntary work done by their partners
) 0.013]. Fifty-five percent of the female
executives, but only 37% of the male executives,
lived in a relationship with a person who also did
voluntary work in sport.
All the female leaders we interviewed agreed on
the fact that a commitment to time-consuming
voluntary work was only possible if the partner
accepted and supported it, among other things by
taking over household chores and family responsibilities. How important it is for women to have an
an understanding partner is reflected in the following
statement: ‘‘I have the most wonderful husband in
the world. Without him, it wouldn’t be possible,
without his understanding, his support’’ (FL21).
Thus, women’s careers in sports federations seem
to be influenced more than men’s by the reactions
and attitudes of their partners. A supportive environment that is, living with a person who appreciates one’s activities and shares one’s interests seems
to influence the careers of female leaders positively.
The importance, especially for women, of their
partner’s support is illustrated by statements given
in the interviews. One of our interview partners
expressed this in the following way: ‘‘If one of them
finds fulfillment in a dog-breeding club and the other
in something else, but both are happy, complement
each other and exchange experiences, they can
stimulate each other. But that is an art’’ (FL13).
However, women do not always get support or even
acceptance for their activities. Among other things,
the fact that sports leaders are frequently absent
from home can cause problems in relationships.
Several women reported that their voluntary work
caused conflicts with, and even separations from,
their partners: ‘‘My boyfriend somehow got lost on
the way’’, said one of the women interviewed. ‘‘I
moved on faster in my development … Men can’t
cope with that’’ (FL13).
Not only partners but also children have a decisive
influence on women’s (and men’s) lives, and also on
their opportunities and willingness to work as volunteers. This was mirrored in the results of the survey,
which showed that women without children were
over-represented in our sample in relation to the
population as a whole (Statistisches Bundesamt,
2007). Seventeen percent of the male respondents
but 33% of the female respondents had no children,
compared with only 18% of the female population as a
whole and with 24% of German women with a
university degree (age groups 3564). The great
majority of the fathers (91%) reported that it was
mainly their partners who looked after the children,
versus only 17% of the mothers. Forty-one percent of
the women also reported that they had interrupted
their careers to look after their children; the
corresponding figure for the men was a mere 0.9%.
The women we interviewed agreed that a voluntary
career was difficult, if not impossible, for women with
small children. The following quotations illustrate the
personal circumstances of our female respondents:
A child would definitely have been unthinkable in
the stressful situation I am now in with my
work. … I would have had to make a choice:
should I go on with my career or give up my
voluntary work? (FL9)
Those were hard times when my son was still
living at home. I went out to work and had to look
after the family. But I also wanted to do my
voluntary work. That was a big challenge and it
led to stress in the family. (FL11)
In the interviews, we asked the women executives
explicitly if they could offer reasons for the gender
hierarchy in the executive bodies of their associations. They named family duties and responsibilities
as one of the most important obstacles. These results
and statements indicate that women with children
have much more difficulty than men in committing
themselves to voluntary work.
Compliance with the wishes of partners and/or
responsibility for the family may be factors that
contribute to the existence of a large number of
women who cannot and will not ‘‘take the lead’’.
As mentioned in our theoretical considerations,
families can be a ‘‘barrier’’ because they influence
women’s decisions and capacities (the ‘‘supply-side’’
of work) as well as the considerations of employers/
federations (the ‘‘demand-side’’). However, one
must add that it is not the family per se that makes
careers difficult for women, but the conditions of
work, both inside and outside the home (Lausten &
Sjørup, 2003).
Sports biographies. ‘‘Ideal sports leaders’’ are characterized by their commitment to sport. Ninety-five
percent of our respondents had been active in sport
in their youth, and 87% still participated more or
less frequently and intensively in sporting activities.
Our respondents’ participation in sports was much
more intensive than that of the German population
as a whole, with female leaders differing much more
from the overall female population than male leaders
from the overall male population. This was also true
of active membership of a sports club. With rare
exceptions, the respondents were members of a club,
and 65% of the women and 62% of the men (still)
practiced a sport at their club. By comparison, the
corresponding figures for the club membership of
the overall population in the 4160 age group are
20% for women and 32% for men, and in the age
Women and leadership in German sports organizations 237
group of 61 and above 11% and 23% respectively10.
Table III shows that a large proportion of sports
leaders took part in competitive sport at some stage
of their lives. This was also true of the female
respondents, although women, in general, are largely
under-represented in competitive sports (Elbe,
A commitment to sport and knowledge of a sports
the club as an ‘‘insider’’ thus seems to be an important
prerequisite for a leadership position in a sports
association. Men are much more likely to meet these
requirements and consequently form the majority of
potential candidates for a position of leadership.
This may be one of the many interrelated reasons for
the under-representation of women in the higher
echelons of German sport.
Demands placed on an ‘‘ideal sports leader’’
The socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents display an ‘‘ideal’’ and form a particular
the pattern that can be looked upon as the entrance
ticket to a leadership career. Using labor market
approaches, this pattern reveals barriers not only on
the ‘‘supply-side’’ (the individual women with their
interests, motivations, and anticipations) but also on
the ‘‘demand-side’’, the sports federations, which
have specific interests and expectations. Individuals
whose biographies and personal circumstances have
different configurations from those of the ‘‘ideal
leaders’’ are at a huge disadvantage. This is true of
both men and women, but the barriers facing
women are greater, not least because the majority
of the female population do not meet the expectations that people have of the ‘‘ideal leader’’, for
example with regard to the availability of time or
close ties with sport. In other words, women with no
a lifelong commitment to sport and a sports club, with
neither impressive qualifications nor a prestigious
job, with a partner and children, and with no
‘‘sports-friendly’’ family environment to support
they have relatively little chance of obtaining a
leadership position in a sports federation.
The gendered culture of sports organizations
In the following, we inquire into the obstacles and
problems on the ‘‘demand-side’’ that are connected
with the gendered culture of sports organizations
and make it more difficult or even impossible for
women to get and/or hold a voluntary office. We will
first, examine three structural problems the term of
office, recruitment, and elections, as well as the
demands of time placed on the officeholder before
looking at these barriers from the point of view of our
Term of office in executive committees. On average, our
respondents held their position in their presiding
committees for 6.8 years, the longest period in office
being 36 years. The male board members of the
German sports organizations had been in office for
7 years on average while their female counterparts
had served for an average of 5 years. The results of
our study shows that a relatively high number of
leaders of German sports organizations are ‘‘stuck to
their seats’’ (see Table IV), although there are
significant differences between men and women
with regard to their length of office [P(x2
) 0.04].
Almost half of the men and 38.6% of the women had
filled a leadership position for more than 6 years.
Only three women (4.3%) but 30 men (9.0%) had
held office for more than 15 years.
Long terms of office are not prohibited by the
rules of the organizations. This is a problem on the
‘‘demand’’ side and an issue of organizational
culture, which can, however, be a decisive barrier
for new members wishing to embark on a career.
Length of office in sports federations is an even more
significant factor if one takes into account that the
length of office reported by our respondents is the
duration of their current office and that executives
have as a rule served in other offices previously. The
women’s committees of various sports organizations,
including the committee of the umbrella federation,
the DSB, have discussed the length of office on
various occasions. They argue that the relative
immobility of sports organization officials has turned
Table IV. Length of office, according to sex
Females (%) Males (%) Combined (%)
05 years 61.4 50.6 52.5
615 years 34.3 40.4 39.4
1536 years 4.3 9.0 8.2
Table III. Performance level during the most successful period, according to sex
Level Females (%) Males (%) Combined (%)
Elite international sports competitions 20.3 17.0 17.6
National sports competitions 24.6 31.6 30.4
Regional sports competitions 43.5 40.7 41.2
Mass/recreational sport 11.6 10.6 10.8
238 G. Pfister & S. Radtke
executive boards into ‘‘closed shops’’ to which
‘‘outsiders’’, in particular women, have great difficulty gaining access. Proposals to limit the length of
office, however, have met with opposition in associations and federations alike.11
Careers, recruitment, and elections of sports leaders.
Voluntary leaders often exhibit similar career patterns. In the beginning, they show an enthusiasm for
sport at the club level, where they are glad to take up
volunteer work (often as an instructor) before rising
slowly through the ranks to higher positions right up
to the regional and/or national association or federation. Along the way they stand out on account of
their hard work, their ability, and their services to the
organization. Thus, the typical path to high positions
of leadership involves a relatively long period of
qualifying for office in which the candidates must try
to be visible and to show evidence of their service.
The recruitment of candidates for high office is
relatively informal in German sport. Frequently they
are co-opted that is, invited to stand as a candidate
after being proposed by an office-holder or, in rare
cases, put themselves forward as a candidate for
office (Combrink, 2004). The results of the survey
indicate that 44% of the women and 50% of the men
planned the progress of their careers to their current
positions. The gender differences are not statistically
significant [P(x2
) 0.572]. However, it must be
taken into account that these women were respondents who managed to take up a position of leadership at the lower level of the sport. Based on statements
made in the interviews, women appear more inclined
to wait until someone, preferably a sports official,
encourages them to stand as a candidate. As already
mentioned, women are usually not as deeply rooted
in the world of sports as men are and thus do not
have the same extensive networks. Consequently, the
custom, common in sports federations, of approaching widely known members and asking them to stand
as candidates for positions may not be an advantage
for women. This assumption is substantiated by the
results reported by Combrink (2004), who discovered that systematic and transparent recruiting
procedures increase the numbers of women on
boards and committees.
As mentioned earlier, women form a relatively
a small minority among the delegates at general
assemblies. Hence, at elections men function as
‘‘gatekeepers’’. Several of the women executives
interviewed ascribed the gender hierarchy in the
executive bodies of sport to men’s behavior at
elections and how the male delegates ‘‘closed ranks’’
(FL23): ‘‘It’s still always the men that vote …
Because of the disproportion (of male and female
voters) there’s this solid wall … and the women
simply can’t get over it’’ (FL15).
Time invested in voluntary offices. A further issue of
organizational culture is the amount of time invested
in the work. The average time spent on voluntary
activities were 15.7 hours per week, with most women
(64.3%) spending 10 hours or less per week and
most men (54.5%) spending more than 10 hours on
them (see Table V). Few men invested more than
41 hours per week in their positions in a sports
federation, which means that the time they spent on
voluntary activities exceeded the weekly working
hours of full-time employees.
As already discussed above, many women cannot
reconcile their voluntary activities with their work
life balance, especially women with a family. The
many hours that men are able to invest is directly
related to the support they are given by their
partners, which has been mentioned above in connection with the socio-demographic variables.
Both in the labor market and in voluntary work,
time is not only an equivalent of work but also a
symbol of commitment, and ‘‘those who are
committed … are ‘naturally’ more suited to responsibility and authority’’ (Acker, 1990, p. 149). It is a
widespread myth, deeply rooted in organizational
culture, that ‘‘ideal leaders’’ spend lots of time on
their work and that the amount of time spent is also
an indicator of the quality of the work (Rapoport,
Bailyn, Fletcher, & Pruitt, 2002). Leaders are
appreciated for devoting so much of their time and
energy and their commitment can be seen as a
resource for the federation. Nevertheless, the question arises as to whether (and also how) these
demands of time influence or even lessen certainly
members’ opportunities and willingness to stand for
Current leaders’ views on barriers and conflicts
We asked the participants in our survey if they had
experienced barriers during their careers as voluntary leaders. As Figure 3 shows, both men and
women were confronted with barriers, but as a rule,
this did not happen very frequently. There was no
significant sex difference between the frequency of
barriers [P(x2
) 0.068]. However, one must bear in
mind that the respondents were all in leading
positions, which means that they were presumably
Table V. Time spent on voluntary office, according to sex
Hours per week Females (%) Males (%)
010 64.3 41.9
1120 25.7 33.5
2140 10.0 21.0
4170 0.0 3.6
Women and leadership in German sports organizations 239
not faced with any insuperable obstacles or they
would have ‘‘dropped out’’. They made their way in
both their professions and voluntary offices and
adapted to the conditions of leadership positions. In
addition, it must be pointed out that ‘‘barriers’’,
‘‘conflicts’’, ‘‘problems’’ or ‘‘resistance’’ are very
much subjective categories, which are experienced
and interpreted differently according to the individual and her or his resources.
Asked about major barriers to career advancement
(see Table VI), the most frequent responses were
power struggles and competition between colleagues, with 26.8% of the interviewees responding
along these lines. However, there were considerable
differences between the male and female executives
in this regard. None of the male respondents
reported having any problems in relation to their
sex. In contrast, the experiences most frequently
mentioned by the women related to gender-specific
barriers, with one-third of the female members of
governing boards having recollections of this kind.
The women listed power struggles and competition
in second place, followed by difficulties in combining
their voluntary work and family life, as well as
problems of being accepted as young, female officials. The male respondents, by contrast, named
power struggles as major problems, followed by
antiquated structures in administration, as well as
envy among colleagues. None of the female respondents felt disturbed by envy among colleagues.
The results of the survey are corroborated by the
interviews with female leaders, who also reported on
the experiences and problems they have as women.
One woman remembered:
I was often let down during the first years. Sometimes I got no information; people had forgotten
to tell me … One of the presidents of a sports
federation said to me: ‘‘You have done so much for
the sport, I really appreciate that, but I would
never marry you’’. I was furious. (FL13)
It was not only men who caused problems. Several
interview partners emphasized the lack of solidarity
among female leaders, one woman commenting on
the disloyalty of her co-workers as follows: ‘‘I felt
completely flattened, and I got to know only too well
the unreliability of my female colleagues’’ (FL16).
Several of the women interviewed mentioned that
the atmosphere at their board and committee meetings was not very cooperative, often competitive, and
sometimes rather unpleasant. In addition, it was
expected that board members would participate in
the ‘‘social life’’ of the group, which often took place
in bars or pubs. This part of the organizational
culture was not to every woman’s taste. However,
during their careers most of the women came to the
conclusion that they would have to adapt to the
structures and cooperate with men if they wanted to
be successful: ‘‘I had to have the men as my partners
to achieve a majority for my issues. There was no
point in confrontation. I soon found out how to get
the men on my side’’ (FL13).
The statements made in the questionnaire and in
the interviews illustrate how these women appropriated the gendered culture of organizations, as
Very often
Figure 3. Barriers encountered on the way to leadership positions,
according to sex.
Table VI. Barriers to career advancement, according to sex
Barriers Females (%) Males (%) Combined (%)
Gender-specific barriers 34.8 0.0 5.3
Competition, power struggles 17.4 28.5 26.8
Family 8.7 2.0 3.0
Problems of interpersonal relationships 8.7 12.9 12.3
Lack of acceptance as a young official 8.7 5.9 6.3
Occupational stress 6.5 5.9 6.0
Officials too old 4.3 6.6 6.3
Lack of time 4.3 2.3 2.6
Administration structures 0.0 12.9 10.9
Envy 0.0 10.9 9.3
Lack of competence of colleagues 0.0 3.9 3.3
240 G. Pfister & S. Radtke
indicated in the theoretical considerations above
(Alvesson & Due Billing, 1997; Acker, 1999).
The views of ‘‘drop-outs’’ on barriers and conflicts
The ‘‘drop-out’’ study reveals that one of the crucial
differences between male and female leaders lies in
the way they deal with barriers and conflicts in their
voluntary work. The women in our survey generally
reflected upon themselves and the people around
them much more intensely than their male colleagues. They often regarded controversies as personal
insults, consequently suffering a great deal in situations prone to conflicts or power struggles, whereas
the male informants did not have or better, did not
talk about feelings. ‘‘That wasn’t my world anymore’’, reported one of the women. ‘‘I had to get
out … It was the little things that hurt and the more
often it happened, the more perceptive and sensitive
I became to such things’’ (female drop-out 11).
Typical of some of the men’s attitudes is the
following: ‘‘If I develop a plan and a strategy for it,
I am also the one who sees it through, in spite of any
resistance. And those who didn’t like it, well, they
just weren’t my friends’’ (male drop-out 16).
In general, the men showed less emotion in the
interviews; they described themselves as rational and
in control of themselves, and exhibited a high degree
of self-confidence. When conflicts arose, the male
officials mostly laid the blame for the problems on
others. In all, it emerged that the key difference
between the sexes was not so much a question of the
barriers they experienced but more a question of the
way in which these barriers, together with interpersonal relationships in general, were handled. Traditionally, the organizational culture of sports
federations (which is influenced to a large degree
by the patterns of interaction among federation
members) is dominated by male precepts. Consequently, today’s organizational culture not only
caters for the needs and wishes of men but also
requires from all those involved, regardless of their
gender, such attributes as self-confidence, strategy,
ambition, assertiveness and, last but not least,
insensitivity towards personal enmities. Various empirical studies have shown that the few female
officials enjoying success in German sport today
have adapted to these structures to the extent that
their behaviour and strategies have come to resemble
those of their male counterparts (Radtke & Pfister,
2006). However, the ‘‘drop-out’’ study provides
evidence to show that there are other women who
by no means feel at ease in this system and, since
they are either unable or unwilling to adjust to
the prevailing organizational culture, leave office
Discussion and conclusion
In brief, the results of the study allow us to draw the
following conclusions about the under-representation
of women in the upper echelons of the German sports
system. Despite the fact that male and female
members of executive bodies have similar qualifications, similar positions in their professional lives, and
a similar commitment to sport, women do not have
the same positions and the same status as men on the
executive boards of sports organizations. In the German sports system, with its claim to gender equality
and neutrality, neither official regulations nor open
resistance nor stereotypes bar women’s way to
executive bodies. The barriers that hinder access
and career advancement in sports organizations are
not only gender-specific barriers, such as negative
reactions from male colleagues and the particular
circumstances of women’s lives, but also the substructures and subtexts, especially those of the
organizational culture. These are ‘‘embodied’’ in the
‘‘ideal leader’’, who is characterized by high socioeconomic status, a long commitment to sport and
sports clubs, freedom from family duties, a high
degree of self-confidence, and a ‘‘thick skin’’ in
disputes and conflicts. On average, women comply
less with this ‘‘ideal’’ than men.
According to the gendered scripts prevailing in
Western societies, it is women who are faced with the
responsibility of balancing work inside and outside
the home, and this affects their position in the labour
market as well as their chances of taking up a
voluntary office. The results of labour market
research show clearly that it is more difficult for
women than for men to achieve a ‘‘worklife
balance’’, or, more precisely, a balance of occupation
(paid work), responsibility for the family, and
commitments in the voluntary sector (unpaid
work). Although children are essential for each
society, it is left up to families and here it is mainly
the women to solve not only the structural conflict
between earning money and bringing up children,
but also the problem of integrating family life,
employment, leisure, and voluntary work. The
gender order and the specific circumstances of
women’s lives are evidently an obstacle to taking
on a leading position in sports associations and
federations. For all these reasons, women with
families are highly under-represented among sport
A further obstacle deeply rooted in organizational
culture and this applies to companies as well as to
sports federations is the use of time. This affects
both sexes, but has specific consequences for
women, especially for women with families
(Habermann, Ottesen & Pfister, 2005; Hovden,
2000). As mentioned above, organizational culture
Women and leadership in German sports organizations 241
is based on rules, ideals, and myths that are taken for
granted. One of the most powerful myths is the
ideology of time, which says that the amount of time
spent on a task is an indicator of performance and
success. Providing unlimited time and availability
symbolizes commitment and loyalty. In this connection, it must be taken into account that officials in
‘‘third-sector’’ organizations are expected not only to
carry out their duties but also participate in various
social activities. The myth of time and the glorification of officials who have no life beyond their
professional career and voluntary office can be a
significant barrier for women to join and make a
career in sports federations. Especially with regard to
the use of time, there are profound contradictions
between the widespread and deeply rooted ideas and
ideologies about the ‘‘ideal leader’’ on the one hand
and the ‘‘ideal mother’’ on the other, leading to the
supposition that an ‘‘ideal’’ mother cannot be an
‘‘ideal’’ leader and vice versa. Furthermore, our
research has shown that elements of the organizational culture as recruitment and election processes
can contribute, at least partly, to the unequal gender
balance in executive positions in the German sports
system. On the whole, the results of our research
project contribute towards explaining the uneven
gender ratios in German sports associations and
federations: The lack of women in decision-making
committees is not (only) the result of ‘‘supply side’’
factors that is, women’s decisions and capacities; it
is also exacerbated by the ‘‘demand side’’, an
organizational culture that seems to be genderneutral but in reality puts men at an advantage.
index_uk.asp (accessed 10 March 2003). 2 The German sports system has a dual structure and is
organized according to (a) geography and (b) type of sport.
This means that each member of a sports club is registered
both in one of the 16 regional sports associations (e.g. the
Bavarian Sports Association) and in one of the 60 federations
responsible for his or her sport (e.g. the German Football
Federation via the Bavarian Football Federation). 3 The DSB understood gender mainstreaming to mean the
integration of the gender equity perspective into every stage of
the policy process design, implementation, monitoring, and
evaluation. See equality/gender_mainstreaming/
ml (accessed 23 January 2007). 4 In Germany, sports organizations are run by unpaid ‘‘volunteers’’ who are supported by paid administrators. Their
positions are called ‘‘honorary positions’’, but they are leaders
with the power over definitions and decisions. 5 The head offices of the sports confederations are managed by
fully employed staff. All chief executive officers are men. 6 The German Gymnastic Federation has 5 million members, of
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Wimbauer (1999), p. 25). In simple terms, men’s and women’s
occupations can be defined as occupations in which the
proportion of employees of the other sex is under 30%. 8 The UK Government defines the third sector as non-governmental organizations that are value-driven and that principally
reinvest their surpluses to further social, environmental or
cultural objectives. It includes voluntary and community
organizations, charities, social enterprises, cooperatives, and
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about_us/index.asp (accessed 23 January 2007). 9 See
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