Ernst & Young Global Survey Reveals Critical Role Sports Play for Female Executives in Leadership Development and Teamwork in Business

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New global research released today shows the important role of sports in the development of leadership skills for female executives and their ability to motivate teams.

New global research released today shows the important role of sports in the development of leadership skills for female executives and their ability to motivate teams. The Ernst & Young survey of 821 senior managers and executives (40% female, 60% male) found that in comparing C-level female respondents to other female managers, far more had participated in sports at a higher level. Interestingly, 55% of the C-suite women had played sports at a university level, compared with 39% of other female managers.

The vast majority (90%) of the women surveyed had played sports either at primary and secondary school, or during university or other tertiary education, with this proportion rising to 96% among C-suite women.

The survey also found that almost three-quarters (72%) of women agree that individuals who engage in sports at some level, or have done so, participate more effectively within teams than those who have not had this experience. A similar number (76%) of women also agree that adopting behaviors and techniques from sports to the corporate environment can be an effective way of improving the performance of teams.

The research, Women leaders’ perspectives on sport and high-performance teams, is the first in a series commissioned by Ernst & Young that looks at the connection between women’s advancement in sports and business success. The series connects into its Women Athletes Global Leadership Network, formed in March 2013, which was created to tap into the leadership potential of elite female athletes after their retirement from competitive sport.

“This new global survey validates and underscores the fundamental role that participation in sports plays in developing women leaders,” notes Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair, Public Policy, for Ernst & Young, a US Title IX scholarship recipient and one of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” according to Forbes. “Not only do the majority of senior women executives have sports in their background, they recognize that the behaviors and techniques learned through sports are critical to motivating teams and improving performance in a corporate environment.”

The survey also found that 67% of women now occupying a C-level position had participated in sports as a working adult, compared with 55% of other female managers. Other survey highlights include:

  •     90% of women agree that teams are the best way to address increasingly complex business problems, while 82% agree that improving their organization’s ability to develop and manage teams will be essential for future competitiveness.
  •     More than half, 55%, of female respondents overall, think that it is more difficult to motivate teams than individual employees.
  •     87% of female executives agree that inclusive leadership, which attracts and encourages diverse perspectives and dissent, is an effective way of improving team performance.

Additional findings are available at

Ernst & Young’s Women Athletes Global Leadership Network

Ernst & Young’s Women Athletes Global Leadership Network is a three-part program focused on 1) creating a first-of-its kind network to connect female elite athletes with business and government leaders who can mentor, inspire, and open doors after their competitive sporting career; 2) commissioning research on the impact of women’s advancement in sport and society; and 3) highlighting stories of inspiration.

“We launched the Women Athletes Global Leadership Network to harness the leadership potential of the best in women’s sports – elite athletes,” says Donna de Varona, Olympic Champion and Advisor to Ernst & Young’s new program. “Elite female athletes are an incredible pool of talent with unique leadership traits and entrepreneurial skills learned through sports.”

Brooke adds, “Our network is designed to showcase women’s leadership skills and enable them to better pivot to succeed outside of their sport. The world needs more female leaders and we believe the talent that these elite athletes can bring to all sectors will help build a better working world for all.”

The new research findings will be presented by Brooke at an Ernst & Young Women Athletes Global Leadership Network event in São Paulo, Brazil.

Women’s Forum Brazil

Additionally, Brooke is scheduled to speak during Women’s Forum Brazil 2013. It is the second annual gathering of female leaders from Brazil and other markets who are driving change in politics, the economy and society, and is convened by the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society. Brooke will moderate the panel, “Learning to be competitive in a globally winning way,” which will offer business leadership insights from those who support high-growth entrepreneurs as well as CEOs expanding their businesses beyond national borders. Her remarks will reinforce that companies, and those who lead them, must learn to work with diverse teams as part of exploring how to be competitive globally.

During Women’s Forum Brazil 2013, Brooke also participated in the launch of CEO Champions Brazil on June 17, a group of men and women CEOs who want to champion the promotion of women’s advancement. Originally launched in 2010, CEO Champions is an initiative pioneered by the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, in collaboration with Ernst & Young, to promote women's advancement within the private sector.

Survey methodology

Ernst & Young commissioned Longitude Research to conduct an online global survey. In May 2013, 821 senior managers and executives, 40% of whom were female, from a wide range of industry sectors participated in the survey. All companies have annual revenues in excess of US$250 million. Approximately 54% of male respondents and 44% of female respondents were C-level, or board-level, executives.

About Ernst & Young
Ernst & Young is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. Worldwide, our 167,000 people are united by our shared values and an unwavering commitment to quality. We make a difference by helping our people, our clients and our wider communities achieve their potential.

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Ernst & Young refers to the global organization of member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each of which is a separate legal entity. Ernst & Young Global Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, does not provide services to clients.

This news release has been issued by Ernst & Young LLP, a member firm of Ernst & Young Global Limited that provides professional services to clients in the US.


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