Behind every successful woman . . . is a history of team sports

21:18, May 05 2013
VIOLENT GAME: A Christchurch mens hockey match turned ugly on Saturday with punches thrown and one player tackling his brother.

Four out of five senior women executives have sports in their background, and a top accounting firm aims to capitalise on the connection.

Visiting Ernst & Young global board member Beth Brooke told an Auckland audience last week that a new survey showed 80 per cent of top businesswomen had played team sports.

With this in mind, E&Y was putting effort into more research on the correlation between sport and business success for women.

It was also forming a network of elite female athletes, with the plan of helping them to pivot more successfully out of sport into other areas, Brooke said. "We think that there is such a pool of talent waiting there for the public sector, the private sector, that's not being tapped."

The survey results come from financial services company MassMutual, which polled 400 women executives earning at least US$75,000 (NZ$88,000) in the United States and employed by companies with more than 100 staff.

It found that 81 per cent played organised team sports growing up and continued to be physically active, while 86 per cent believed sport helped them to be more disciplined.


More than two-thirds said sport developed their leadership skills and helped them deal with failure. More than half said it gave them a competitive edge.

Brooke, who played intercollegiate basketball while at Purdue University, said as well as discipline, focus, and how to work as part of a team, playing sport taught people that "losing is just feedback".

"Sometimes women get devastated by failing.

"Athletes don't, they just know that means they've got to practise harder, and they've got to do something else differently," she said.

Brooke is the accounting firm's global vice-chairwoman of public policy, and advised former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. However, most of her time now is spent in driving E&Y's diversity efforts.

Research into the impact on companies and economies of having a more diverse work force and leadership was a key part of achieving change, she said. "You've got to build the business case and you've got to do it factually."

Women were entering many professions in good numbers but were flowing out at the mid-level and not reaching the top.

There were two factors connected with this - the way they viewed themselves, and how their senior colleagues viewed them.

"At that mid-level, women get promoted on performance, men get promoted based on potential."

Diverse teams were never mediocre, Brooke said - "[they] are either really good or really bad. The difference is how well they're led".