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Judy Van Horn is not shy about answering calls from numbers she does not recognize. She braves the danger of possibly engaging a telemarketer, knowing those unfamiliar area codes could belong to the next great coach or athletic director.
Van Horn is the executive associate athletic director for sport and risk management and senior women's administrator at the University of South Carolina. She also serves as the athletic department's Title IX deputy coordinator and liaison to the university Office of Equal Opportunity Program. She previously chaired the NCAA Inclusion Subcommittee.
Yet, outside of her litany of official duties, Van Horn also freely offers advice, guidance and her phone number to young women pursuing careers in sports. She employs her open line policy in formal networking events and impromptu chats in airport terminals.
"I just make myself available," Van Horn said. "It's important to mentor women as much as possible, just encouraging them to be willing to take on new opportunities and be adventurous in growing their career."
Van Horn contended that active and accessible mentorship is one way to rectify the dearth of women coaches in college athletics. In February, the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, in conjunction with the Alliance of Women Coaches, reported that merely 20 percent of all college coaching positions are held by women.
The organizations released a review of women's sports coaches at 86 major NCAA Division I programs for the 2017-18 academic year. Women held 41.5 percent of the 970 coaching positions reviewed.
Researchers awarded a letter grade to each of the 86 schools. South Carolina and Clemson University received Cs. Each school reported a 50-50 split between male and female coaches for women's sports. Merely 19 of the 86 schools reported more female than male coaches in their women's programs.
"We want to stimulate a national conversation and hold decision makers accountable for their hiring practices," said Dr. Nicole LaVoi, co-director of the Tucker Center, who has compiled this report for six years.
The percentage of female coaches has increased slightly in each of the last four years, but according to LaVoi, 41.5 percent is still far from a sufficient and acceptable mark. The 86 schools included in the study recorded 91 coaching hires for women's sports in the last academic year. More than 60 percent of those openings were filled by men. In 42 of those instances, a male coach was replaced by another male coach.
"There are a lot of amazing, qualified women coaches who need to be given the opportunity to do what they love," LaVoi said. "Women get blamed for the lack of women in coaching. (Critics) say 'Women don't apply' or 'Women don't want to coach,' but they don't look at the structure and the system within the organizations that makes it more difficult for women to succeed and thrive."
South Carolina increased its female to male coach ratio from 5-to-7 the previous year to 6-to-6. Clemson improved percentage wise from 4-to-5 with the elimination of the diving program. Two Atlantic Coast Conference schools- Miami (60 percent) and Florida State (54.5 percent)- are rated higher than Clemson. Duke and Wake Forest also have a 50-50 split between male and female coaches.
Tennessee (58.3 percent) is the only Southeastern Conference school rated higher than South Carolina. Ten of the remaining 12 SEC schools received a D or F.
"Athletics is a little behind the times," LaVoi said. "In most other workplaces, diversity and gender balance is sought after and valued. Women face many more barriers and impediments to entering and staying in the coaching profession than do men. We need to really look at the organizational culture of many athletic departments that make women feel as if they're not valued and supported."
According to Clemson senior associate athletic director and senior women's administrator Stephanie Ellison, many universities hire external evaluators to assess gender equality in all aspects of the athletic department, including personnel, salaries, team travel, facilities and equipment. An additional measure she stressed was a duty of mentorship. She argued that all athletic leaders should adopt an open line policy.
"I personally would not be where I am today without the encouragement and guidance I received from my mentors," Ellison said. "We are privileged enough to interact with young women daily. We need to guide them and help develop their skill sets, when they are with us, in order to be successful within whatever area of athletics they select."
Van Horn asserted that such equality initiatives and safeguards are intended to nurture a diverse, cooperative workforce that reflects the diverse composition of the students it serves. She insisted that those measures are never intended to provide an undue crutch or compromise the integrity of a job search.
"It's important that our students see people who look like them, whether it's in coaching or administration or in the faculty. It matters. It's inspirational to see somebody you can identify with in a place you want to be at some point in your career," Van Horn said. "If you're filling a position, you want to hire the best, regardless of gender or ethnicity, but at the same time, you want to develop a diverse environment. It's possible. It's doable.
"We can have a group of diverse individuals, and they can all be rowing in the same direction. They can all have a common motivation, a common goal, and find that in so doing, we are able to accomplish great things together. We all see life through our own prism, and the only way to broaden our vision is to make sure we have people who bring different perspectives."
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