Lightning talk

Hi, I'm Chelsea Vern! Join me as I analyze gender bias in the sports media landscape through the perspective of current industry professionals and post-secondary students.

Research problem/questions

Has gender biases against women in the role of sports television & digital media personalities changed over the past ten years?

Have we come as far along as we thought?


My focus is to look at different variables that influence a lower rate of women entering the sports media industry. My study investigates how gender biases against women in the role of sports television & digital media personalities have changed over the past ten years. The nature of this study is exploratory and aims to understand the inequalities current female sports TV & digital media personalities and post-secondary graduates have experienced. This research is used to compare and contrast their stories.


This issue is worth studying because there is an increased awareness of historic gender biases in the sports media landscape. However, further research needs to be conducted to see exactly how much progress has been made and investigate whether there will be a continued path towards progression. Many women don’t realize a career in sports is a possibility for them, nor are they given equal opportunity to pursue one. More evidence needs to be found to prove that further actions must be addressed.


Grounded Theory was used to develop a hypothesis and establish a thorough analysis through data collection. I used both quantitative and qualitative measures to conduct my research.

Qualitative Interviews

Style of Data Collection: In-depth interviews conducted via phone call with current sports industry female professionals and post-secondary students pursuing a career in sports.

I collected stories about my participant’s career journeys and how the challenges they faced and continue to face, both positively and negatively impact their career.

Quantitative surveys

Style of Data Collection: Anonymous close-ended surveys

Strategy for Distribution: Sent a survey link to a broader, general public to determine the amount of knowledge and the level of gender biases society currently has of women in sport.


I hypothesize that gender bias continues to be a significant barrier for women in the sports industry. While discriminatory practices have decreased, and societal perceptions have improved, more impactful change needs to occur. Key variables in this study are negative stereotypes affecting hiring positions, promotions, and opinions of women pursuing careers in sports media. Such experiences include cases of gender-bias that have led to inequality in the workplace and societal attitudes that women are not capable nor should be allowed to pursue a career in sports.


My hypothesis was proven to be correct for this research study. Gender bias and discrimination practices are continuing to occur in the sports landscape. It is seen in the workplace, in the classroom, and within our social circles. We can see improvement over the decade because as more people choose to advocate for diversity in sport, society is slowly starting to learn the impact discrimination has on women. The sports industry thrives on the belief that sports build inclusive and accessible communities and unites people around the world. In the ways discussed below, we can see a positive movement forward, but we have a long way to go.

A decade of change

Participants see more women in leadership, decision-maker roles, hosting national sports broadcasts, and reporting on social media platforms.

“we have improved over the past 10 years but it's almost like the bar is on the floor sometimes.”

- Student Interviewee

We can see improvement, but they are such small baby steps that take so many years to implement, whereas these steps were always a given right to men. They never had to fight for these positions; it was natural. There is no reason for women to battle with tremendous effort to obtain a natural right.

survey says:

Do you feel the sports industry has improved over the past 10 years?

32.1%=Yes | 4.8%=No | 63.1%=Somewhat...hmmm

What still needs to be done?

Pay Equity. Period.

Normalcy Instead of Newsworthy: Decrease the level of shock and attention that women receive when they are promoted to sports roles that are seen as “uncharacteristic” for women.

"These promotions should be easily obtainable to a person of any gender. When society stops seeing it as newsworthy to report women doing "the impossible," that's when we will begin to see monumental change."

- Current Professional Interviewee

Equal Opportunity for a Diverse Voice: Males maintain a dominant presence in roles that have a high level of influential power on audiences. Such positions include Colour Commentator, Play-by-Play Announcer, and Sports Anchor. This enables sports news and content to be driven to male audiences, and opinions are dominated by the male experience.

Survey Says:

exposure is crucial

“The biggest hurdle that women face is visibility. Having played sports growing up, you just see that you need to become a strong-willed fighter to be viewed on the same playing field as men.”

- Current Professional Interviewee

Both current industry professionals and post-secondary students see it as their duty and have a great passion for advocating for women's sports. They say that exposure is critical, and they want to be part of the train that shows the world that there is a demand for women's sports.

How can I be it if I can't SEE it? Girls can see (few) female personalities on TV, which they can look up to and be exposed to that career type. In contrast, other roles inherently aren’t that visible such as editors, producers, sports marketers, businesswomen, etc. Women behind the scenes or in-office positions aren’t given any visibility for girls to idolize. We should implement panel talk tours in schools and events held in communities to promote all sports positions to women and girls.

survey says:

The results from both of these graphs show that the effort of popular sports platforms and leagues is dramatically low. Each entity is generally ranked at a moderate level, which indicates that addressing gender bias and exposing women's sports within their organizations is a low priority. The NBA is the only league that stands out as making "good efforts" and is coincidentally the single professional men's league to own & operate a women's professional league (WNBA)

public attitudes

92.9% of survey participants voted that they see female sports tv personalities receiving more criticism about their appearance versus men.

Interview participants agreed with this factor as they experience these pressures in their jobs. Women are expected to be prim, proper, wear sophisticated clothes, & have their hair & makeup done. Whereas men often don’t have to worry about their appearance. A suit or business casual is typically seen as accepted.

If you have nothing nice to say...

"male peers are genuinely shocked that I know what I'm talking about and that I can provide a valid response in any sports conversation. They wonder how I learned it…uhh same what you did, man!"

- Collective Interview Response

Not only is their knowledge questioned or criticized, but when women enter or initiate a sports conversation with their male peers, they are drilled with trivia to determine their ability to be a fan.


Two key takeaways from my primary research would be that it takes a persistent group of allies both within the industry and throughout the public to continue raising awareness of gender bias. The industry and the public need to take an active role in changing their discriminatory attitudes. As leaders with a prominent voice, sports media companies must set the example to audiences by taking more significant leaps to create gender equality. The public then needs to shut down their resistance to change and eliminate their negative behaviours within social society.

The second takeaway would be to continue encouraging the confidence and motivation of younger generations. Based on my interviews and survey results, I saw that while gender biases exist, the assertiveness of young professionals is uncanny. They understand the history and experience push-back themselves, but they refuse to allow their futures to be dictated for them. Young females are learning that they can have the courage to believe in themselves and not settle for anything less than what they’re worth.

Further research

I would strongly suggest that further research be conducted to gain extensive knowledge of how race, age, and other identity factors impact gender biases in sport. Branching off the results from this study, focusing new research on intersectionality, would be worth investigating.

Researcher bio

My name is Chelsea Vern, and I am currently pursuing a career in communications, including content production, social media, and marketing within the sports industry. For as long as I can remember, the sports industry has not been a place where women could find equal opportunity. However, attitudes are beginning to change, and the sports business is taking notice.

I have a specific interest in the unique ability sports have to unite people and create community. I am a full-time student at Ryerson University, graduating this year with a bachelor's degree in Professional Communication with a minor in Sports Marketing.

Currently, I hold five part-time jobs that range between working in-game operations, photography, content production, social media, and marketing. My current employers include the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto FC, Toronto Argos, the National Hockey League, and Ryerson University Athletics.

Created By
Chelsea Vernhout