Discrimination against women in football at all-time high

Lauren James (right) scores for England against Denmark at the Women's World Cup - Discrimination against women in football at all-time high

The study comes the same day as England beat Denmark 1-0 at the Women’s World Cup thanks to a goal from Lauren James (right) – Getty Images/Justin Setterfield

Discrimination towards women who work in football is at an all-time high, new research has found.

Findings from leading campaign group Women in Football’s largest-ever survey of women working and volunteering in the football industry show that although a greater proportion of them now feel accepted and encouraged in the workplace, they are still being subjected to widespread discrimination.

On the same day that England beat Denmark 1-0 at the Women’s World Cup, the group’s findings reveal that 82 per cent of women working in football have experienced discrimination, which includes sexism, sexual harassment and derogatory comments on ability based on gender. That is up from 66 per cent in 2020.

Sexism in the workplace has gone down from 65 per cent in 2020 but almost half (47 per cent) of women working in football have experienced it.

Nearly a quarter of those who experienced gender-based discrimination at work felt able to report it, which also represents a significant improvement on WIF’s 2020 survey, when the figure was just 12 per cent.

“There’s been progress – slower progress than most of us would like – but there are some real nuggets of optimism that fill me with absolute joy,” said Yvonne Harrison, the CEO of Women in Football.

“While the figures show that more people are reporting discrimination, it’s still not enough. The fear factor of putting yourself forward is really, really significant still. The more that gender is talked about in workplace environments, the less tolerant women are to some of the things that they’re subjected to.”

In a sign that the sport is making steady progress towards gender-inclusiveness, the survey, which collated responses from 635 people over the course of a month this year, found that 89 per cent of women are optimistic about the prospects of women in the football industry – up from 62 per cent in 2016.

Lucy Bronze (left) and Mary Earps (middle) dance on the press conference table following England Women's victory in the Euros - Discrimination against women in football at all-time high

Following the Lionesses’ victory at Euro 2022 there was a renewed sense of optimism around eradicating sexism in football – Getty Images/Sarah Stier

But this is countered by the fact that women still face challenges when trying to break into the higher echelons of the football industry, with women typically given more access to entry and mid-level positions.

The survey found a ‘glass ceiling’ remains in the way of their progress to top jobs within the professional game, with just 27 per cent of women encouraged to forge pathways to the highest positions, which Harrison described as a “concern”.

“We call upon the industry to be more transparent and joined-up with its data so collectively we have an accurate picture of the football workforce from which we can create change,” she said.

“It’s also clear that employers in the football industry must create a safe and encouraging system for people to report discrimination – and then to protect those on the receiving end, while dealing with the issue properly.

“Like all other forms of discrimination, sexism can ruin careers and lives. Sadly, it’s becoming more widespread. Football needs to up its game and show zero tolerance to the perpetrators.

“Despite the backdrop of all of these issues, there is an optimism that women can excel in this industry.”

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