More than half of top female execs played college sports

Discipline, competitiveness push career forward

More than half of female C-suite executives played a sport in college and prefer to hire people with athletic backgrounds, according to a new study.

Researchers from EY Women Athletes Business Network (EYWABN) and espnW surveyed over 400 female executives in five countries, 20% of whom were American and 50% of whom held positions in the C-suite. Only 3% of those top-level leaders never played a sport, while 52% participated on a collegiate level.

Three out of four C-suite females said they believe athletes make good professionals and that they consider candidates' sports backgrounds in hiring decisions.

People who play sports, the executives say, bring intangible skills such as motivating others, discipline, competitiveness, and teamwork—the last two of which are especially critical to marketplace success.

Someone who quits in the middle of a team game, avoids passing to a teammate because of a personal grudge, or refuses to put in extra hours to strengthen a weakness cannot expect to get very far in the corporate world, says Donna de Varona, EYWABN advisor and Olympic champion.

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"Sports [teach] fundamentals for success and that is why both men and women executives like to hire athletes," says de Varona, adding "they share a common bond and know when the pressure is on they will not be let down."

It has been 42 years since Title IX passed, requiring U.S. high schools to spend the same amount on female and male sports—but participation levels have not yet evened out—in fact, the gap has widened in the past five years (Fondas,Harvard Business Review, 10/9).

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