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Study Finds Athletics May Help Women Succeed in Corporate America - 2002-06-08

A background in athletics may help propel women to corporate success, according to the results of a national poll of female business leaders. The study, conducted by the Oppenheimer Mutual Fund, found that 82 percent of the nation's top women business executives played organized sports while growing up.

The Vice President of IBM was a competitive swimmer, the Director of AT&T's consumer division a competitive skier. Speigel Catalogues Chief Executive Officer was a gymnast. The Chief of Ebay played squash and lacrosse in college, and Spherion's top executive was a basketball guard.

All are women. All have risen to the top of their professions. It was this type of empirical evidence, Oppenheimer spokesman Jeaneen Terrio says, that prompted the national study. "We decided to take a look at women business executives to determine what, if any impact sports had on their careers and their success. And overall what we found is that sports has certainly played a very important role in their lives growing up and their careers now," she says.

Ms. Terrio says most of the female executives surveyed said their athletic experience had taught them how to compete successfully, a skill that is as important in business as it is in sports. "They also indicated that they are a lot more confident based on their experience with sports," she says. "They have learned to take chances, to take risks, to develop leadership skills, to be more disciplined."

Title IX of the 1972 U.S. Civil Rights Act stipulated that girls and boys must have equal educational opportunities. In sports terms that meant that school that provided athletic teams for boys had to provide athletic teams for girls as well.

Jeaneen Terrio says many of today's top female executives were beneficiaries of the equalizing effects of Title IX. "Title IX was really the turning point," she says. "Before that women did not have equal footing in sports. And given that this is the 30th anniversary [of Title IX] we felt that this was the perfect time to conduct this research."

If there is a tendency for athletes to become competitive professionals, Jeaneen Terrio says, there should be a steep increase in women in corporate executive positions in the future.

Thirty years ago only 300,000 girls in the United States played high school sports. Today, she says, there are three million.