Research shows female role models at elite and grassroots levels can boost participation levels
Inspirational female role models can play a key part in engaging more women to participate in physical activity new research from London Sport and AudienceNet has revealed.
On International Women’s Day, the two organisations have unveiled a first glimpse of their findings into how physical activity is perceived, delivered, and led by women in East London.
The research is part of a project alongside Sport England, Essex Cricket, Leyton Orient Trust and the West Ham United Foundation looking at what influences women’s decisions and behaviours relative to physical activity and sport participation.
Most women spoken to during the research felt that exercise was important and identified a range of factors that contributed to good intentions not translating into reality.
For some, there were issues around motivation or feelings of unease around classic exercise/sport settings such as gyms and other public spaces.
Others discussed a lack of options catering to women in their local area – clearly pointing to the need of a two-pronged approach.
The first seeks to inspire and encourage more women to take up exercise whilst also enabling participation through addressing the barriers raised throughout the research project.
And the power of inspirational female role models was clear with participants speaking of their admiration for women who juggled responsibilities, broke through barriers, and stayed true to themselves.
Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill, tennis star Serena Williams and USA gymnast Gabby Douglas were all highlighted alongside local on-the-ground influencers.
Friends and family as well as religious institutions, community leaders, and women in similar life-stages (e.g. new mothers’ groups) are all able to facilitate changes in active behaviour.
At an East London level, the research identified that by working together and creating partnerships, all kinds of local organisations could act as influencers and enablers.
The research aims to facilitate step-change in how local providers, from places of worship and parenting groups supported by local sports clubs to councils and local leisure centres, engage with and reach women in Newham, Barking and Dagenham and Ilford.
AudienceNet and London Sport are now consulting with representatives of these locations to support them to facilitate more sessions geared towards a diverse audience, less active groups and local women facing multiple challenges.
This will lay the groundwork for a network of partners who collaborate in providing safe spaces, facilities, coaches, and programming aimed at women, supported by London Sport.
The full findings of the research, including a visual segmentation, customer journey flow, guidance documents and a full evidence report, will be published in early April.
Sania Haq, Project Lead and Head of Research at AudienceNet, said:
“It’s been fascinating to hear from women in our research about their inspirations and role models, especially the importance of representation in sport at both professional and grassroots level.
“Influencers such as Serena Williams and others flying the flag not only for female athletes, but for mothers, women of colour, and so much more, clearly act as forces of inspiration which can be harnessed even at a local, community level.”
Laura-Jane Taylor, Qualitative Specialist on this project at AudienceNet, said:
“It’s been amazing to see the take up we had for this project and the many women who were so keen to share their views on physical activity in the context of their local area.
“There have been some hugely constructive insights to come out of this project, not least the clear indication that collaboration and partnership between local organisations is key to delivering more opportunities for women to take up physical activity.”
Tristan Farron-Mahon, Insight Consultancy Manager at London Sport, said:
“We wanted to use this research to learn more about who or what holds the most influence over women in East London in terms of physical activity and sport.
“This exciting research will help us identify and prioritise the local needs of women and girls and create practical tools and resources that support partners to reach and engage a more diverse audience across less active groups.”