Sports

What The University of Cincinnati Athletic Department Teaches Us About How To Treat Women In The Workplace

by Sheila Mulrooney Eldred

April 21, 2017
Cincinnati Bearcats head volleyball coach Molly Alvey

As Cincinnati Bearcats head volleyball coach Molly Alvey paced the sidelines last season, the new mom was focused on her team. She had no stray thoughts about whether her baby son Isaac was napping on schedule or lingering concerns about what he was eating, she says, because he was in the stands of every match.

Thanks to Cincinnati’s policy that pays for young family members and their caretakers to accompany coaches on the road, Isaac learned to clap as Alvey and husband Phillip White, associate head coach, helped propel the Bearcats to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.

The road trip childcare policy is just one aspect of the family-friendly atmosphere at Cincinnati that has led to the school’s fifth straight A on the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport’s annual Women in College Coaching Report Card.

Decision makers at other colleges are taking note, says report card author Nicole LaVoi, asking how Cincinnati attracts and retains female coaches at double the rate of most institutions. At Cincinnati, 80 percent of women’s varsity teams are led by female head coaches. The national average has been hovering at around 40 percent, down from over 90 percent in 1972 when Title IX mandated a leveling of the playing field for male and female athletes.

With only 22 percent of NCAA Division I schools earning an A or B (University of Central Florida was on the only other A), there is much room for improvement. We asked the Bearcats how they do it. The result is more common decency than radical policies. Here’s what they told us:

Forget Balance

“Work/life balance has evolved into work/life integration,” says Maggie McKinley, executive senior associate director of athletics.  “Hiring, retention, and true career development require constant monitoring and being aware of the whole person. Understanding wants, needs, and goals of the total person provides the best opportunity for success.”

If she hadn’t been able to have Isaac nearby, Alvey says, she likely would have been “pulled away mentally from being in the moment of volleyball.”

Equally important, Alvey says, are the intangibles that don’t cost money. Everyone in the department knows little Isaac by nameAnd when Alvey sees pictures from the games, she is happy to see Isaac sitting on the laps of players’ family members. “That stuff is really important; it shows people really do care and like you as a person,” she says.

And it works: Alvey was named the American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.

Collaboration

The Bearcats’ football strength coaches recently ran 6 a.m. workouts for the women’s soccer team, athletic director Mike Bohn says. “It was really inspiring for the whole building,” he says, and it helps create an atmosphere where everyone is valued—and people want to stay. 

After the session, which included tug-of-war and tire pulling, one player tweeted, “Have never felt #OneTeam like I did this morning. S/o 2 @GoBearcatsFB staff 4 making us better & my teammates for the grind @GoBearcatsWSOC.”

Cultivate Talent

When Mandy Commons-DiSalle, then an assistant coach, applied for the Bearcats head coaching position for the women’s and men’s swimming and diving team in 2014, she sought advice from one of the few other women in the country who coach Division I men. They ran through various interview scenarios to navigate how she might allay concerns about a woman coaching men. “And to be honest, it never came up,” says Commons-DiSalle, who became Bohn’s first head coach hire at Cincinnati and is now in her seventh year with the Bearcats. “It’s about finding and identifying the next up-and-coming leader, male or female,” Bohn says.

Deepen The Search

Bohn makes it sound simple, but making diverse hires does take a concerted effort, McKinley says. Search committees at Cincinnati are strategically “composed of a diverse group of people who have diverse networks, resulting in interviewing and hiring from a deeper candidate pool,” she says. Organizations such as Women Leaders in College Sports are also helpful in identifying female candidates.

Retention

McKinley herself ran the 400-meter hurdles for the Bearcats from 1996-2000 as part of the first recruiting class after women’s track and field was re-implemented in 1995-96. “I directly benefited from the University of Cincinnati being conscious of increasing opportunities for females,” she says. At the time, there were only a few women in the athletic department, which she joined as an intern in 2001. She credits the institution with recognizing her potential and realizing that they could benefit from her experiences.

Off The Court

Making connections with women in leadership positions across campus is important, Bohn says, in continuing the atmosphere of confidence, encouragement, and support beyond the playing field.

While the Bearcats can brag about their athletic improvements—the women’s basketball team posted its best record since the 2005-06 season and finished a best-ever tied for fifth in the American Athletic Conference; the volleyball team earned the American Athletic Conference’s first-ever at-large bid into the NCAA tournament; indoor track had its first individual national champion; three athletes have been named All-American so far this year—they would also be happy if their report card success prompted a win for women.

“I would believe that our efforts would be contagious,” Bohn says. “It is something special.”

 

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