Women’s Leadership Conference Encourages Female Leaders to ‘rise to elite level'


COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. – In conjunction with the 2013 National Team Coaches Conference, USA Swimming hosted its first Women’s Leadership Conference.

The Women’s Leadership Conference was held April 14-16 at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The event then weaved into the National Team Coaches Conference, which runs from April 15-17.

“We have recognized this gender inequity and are trying to learn about the main issues to help our female coaches rise to the elite level,” said Lindsay Mintenko, USA Swimming National Team Managing Director. “This conference is a discussion of 30 of the National Team and National Junior Team coaches, as well as some assistant coaches of NT/ NJT coaches who are female and the issues they face.”

Seven of the 66 coaches on the 2012-13 National Team list are female, and that number is part of what sparked the idea for a conference.

Along with USA Swimming, the conference was also run by some female leaders, including four-time Olympic swimming legend Jill Sterkel and Skyline High School and Club Wolverine coach Mo-Jo Isaac.

“We thought a lot of men were getting jobs because of who they knew and who they worked for, a lot of the boys’ network, but not evil in any way; that’s just how it was,” Isaac said. “So we said, ‘Let’s start a boys’ network — for women.’ And that really is what this is, to give women an opportunity to network.”

The hope is to have continued education with the female coaches and leaders throughout the next two years.

Female swimming leaders attended from several different backgrounds and experience levels, and the summit called for these coaches to be mentors to each other and other emerging female leaders. 
The lack of opportunties for women in swimming to professionally network was one of the issues cited. Motherhood was also listed as a challenge.

“Being a female coach, you’re not only raising your own children, you’re pretty much raising the children you’re coaching,” Sterkel said.

However, Sterkel acknowledges that women raising children is generally a pressure from society but changes are slowly being made, and that shouldn’t be the focus in the conference.

“Now we’ve had a shared experience with a larger group, and it will be kind of like a ripple effect,” Sterkel said. “Networking is a critical skill. We have to do a better job at teaching, mentoring, and modeling how people can network. It’s not a male versus female thing. But if no one is there to throw a life ring to someone who is struggling, especially a female who is struggling, another female needs to stand up to be that helping hand.”

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