There are significant gaps in the representation of women at the highest levels of sports administration. For many women, barriers to actively pursuing governance and other high-level administration roles have included feeling excluded by ‘old boys’ networks’, meetings held at times that do not suit women as the main caregivers in families, not being taken seriously, or being expected to be a secretary or tea-maker rather than receiving the respect accorded to other board members.
Research suggests that gender diversity on governance boards is valuable to organisations because women have different life experiences, can access different networks and markets, and can act as mentors for other women.
Distinguished female sports administrators include Anne Taylor, who umpired the first televised netball test in 1969. She was instrumental in securing netball’s inclusion in the Commonwealth Games in 1998. Kereyn Smith worked her way up the administrative ranks of New Zealand sport to become the first female secretary general (chief executive) of the New Zealand Olympic Committee in 2011. In 2016, Sarai Bareman was appointed as FIFA's first Chief Women's Football Officer and Katie Sadleir became World Rugby's first general manager for the women's game. In 2020, Raelene Castle became the first female chief executive of Sport New Zealand. In 2021, Sadleir was appointed as the first female chief executive officer of the Commonwealth Games Federation.
In 2006 the New Zealand Golf Association and Women’s Golf New Zealand merged to form New Zealand Golf, with the aim of encouraging collective decision-making and ensuring consistent management and governance within golf. In 2012, two of the eight members of the board of directors were women.
A 1993 study found 24% of major executive positions in national sport organisations were held by women. However, 81% of these positions were either as secretary or a general board member. Men held the vast majority of leadership positions such as director, chair or president.
In 1994 a wider study found that 27% of people on national boards were women, while 17% of national boards included no women. National subcommittees for women were in place in 27% of these organisations.
In 1996 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made a resolution to have 10% of decision-making positions held by women in Olympic sports by 2000, increasing to 20% by 2005.
A 2007 survey found that 27% of national board members were women – the same as in 1994. In 2011, 65% of New Zealand Olympic sport boards had reached the 20% female-membership threshold of the IOC (compared to 52% of boards in 2007), while 13% of the boards had no women (22% in 2007).
In 2015 the New Zealand Olympic Committee had four women and six men on its board, Sport New Zealand had six men and two women, while the New Zealand Rugby Union’s board was entirely male. Three of the nine Netball New Zealand board members were men.
The New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) piloted a women’s mentoring scheme in 2011. Mentors were matched with women who wanted to either enter into governance roles or step up into more senior roles. The programme provided women with opportunities to network and talk through opportunities and problems, and encouraged long-lasting relationships with the mentors.
In 2015 New Zealand was World Winner at the IOC's annual Women in Sport Awards. The citation recognised the NZOC's ‘longstanding efforts promoting women in sport that have resulted in strong female representation on its Board, within its senior management and on its Olympic teams.’