How Sports Help Women Succeed in Business

In 1976, Yale's female crew team marched into the office of the school's P.E. director and stripped, revealing "Title IX" painted across their chests and backs.

Title IX was a revolutionary piece of legislation which mandated that no federally-funded school could discriminate on the basis of sex. Yale didn't have a women's locker room in 1976, and that, the crew team said, was illegal.

Title IX didn't just open up more opportunities for female athletes. According to research from Wharton Business School, those opportunities may have resulted in increased female participation in the labor force. It turns out that girls who play sports have a higher chance of employment later in life, as well wages 14 to 19 percent higher than that of their less athletically-inclined peers.

Through interviews with former female athletes and coaches, The Grindstone website explains how sport doesn't just burn calories and elevate endorphins. Its benefits pay off in the much longer term.

Female athletes are more likely to succeed in business.

Some of the reasons are clear. Sports builds up physical and emotional endurance, and demands that players be constantly aware of their weaknesses and strive to overcome them.

"Pushing yourself through things in sports creates a brand of resiliency that is needed for starting your own company," Kim Rosenberg, the founder of the D.C.-based gay and lesbian matchmaking service Mixology, told The Grindstone. Rosenberg is a former high school and college soccer player, who for a few years dabbled in the semi-pros,

The team-bonding and intensive exercise, with the sense of strength, power and skill that it brings, fortifies girls' self-esteem. All that practice in self-assertion and strategic thinking can also translate from the pitch to the boardroom, unleashing a competitive drive that often isn't nurtured in girls.

This confidence and ambition then empowers women to enter and succeed in fields that aren't traditionally friendly to women.

It's for this reason that the female empowerment nonprofit, Girls on the Run International, has trained hundreds of thousands of young women for a 5K run, along with other "experience-based lessons."

"This [athletics] is giving them the foundation, subliminally, for later in life," Sam Zietz, a sports coach, told The Grindstone. "Any sport teaches you just as much about business as math or English."

According to the Wharton school research, Title IX is associated with a 15 percent rise in female employment in "male" professions.

That confidence and ambition also makes former athletes more likely to demand what they're worth, negotiate salaries and take credit for work -- things women notoriously struggle to do.

This is good news for millions of girls who play high school sports (3.1 million girls in the U.S. in 2009, compared to 4.4 million boys).

The story isn't so bright, however, for women who are actually trying to take their sporting ability to the professional level. USC analyzed TV coverage of women's sports over 20 years, and found that airtime dedicated to female athletic feats dropped from a high of 9 percent in 1999 to 1.6 percent in 2009, a fraction of the 5 percent coverage that women had when the study began.

Most women's sports results were confined to a ticker text bar at the bottom of the screen.

But for all the women who dropped their sport after high school or college, there should be comfort in the fact that all those hundreds of hours of early-morning drills and evening weights wasn't just for the memories, improved physical health or a masochistic fix. As a former athlete, the sweat and strain should pay off in bigger wages and a better sense of self.

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