More Than a Title

By Jean Gee

When I introduce myself to someone new, outside of Athletics and they see my title, I often get the question, “what is a swah?” I return an equally quizzical look. They ask again, “Why do you have the letters SWA in your title….swah?” Oh, it then dawns on me….Senior Woman Administrator.  “Senior Woman Adminstrator” as a title is even more foreign to them and leads to more questions. Why is that part of your title? What does it mean? What do you do as a SWA?

If I am in a particularly reflective mood, I step back and look at it through their eyes. It is an interesting concept…..a requirement for an organization to designate its most senior female administrator as the SWA. It is not a job with a role description. It is not the administrator of female sports (hence the sometimes referenced incorrect title of Senior Women’s Administrator).

Rather it is a designation required by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and an opportunity for the female perspective and voice in the management of the Athletic Department. It is unique and certainly could be viewed through a glass half full lens, or a glass half empty lens. Why would an organization need to make this requirement? Does this reflect a weakness, or an innovation by a progressive and responsive organization? In the end, the reason doesn’t matter….the result does.

Why is the Senior Woman Administrator designation important? First and foremost, it validates the importance of women’s contributions to Athletics and its overall management. It provides an additional avenue for student-athletes and employees to voice concerns. It allows for additional perspectives in decision-making. Overall, it advances the image of women in senior leadership roles.

While there are more and more females getting involved in athletic administration, the numbers show that it is still predominately a male industry, especially at the Division I level. That is why it is as important as ever for young women, especially student-athletes, to have female role models in the administration. To know that there is a path for them in college athletics. The success of Sandy Barbour at Penn State and Jennifer Cohen at Washington (which also is led by a female president) provide shining examples of strong female athletic directors and certainly pave the way for all females involved in athletics.

Based on my own experiences in this role, and my interactions with others in this role, the future for women entering athletics administration is indeed very bright. The professional resources made available by the NCAA and other professional organizations, most notably Women Leaders in College Sports, continue to improve. The networking opportunities are increasing every year. And the number of positive and strong role models is increasing. I feel fortunate every day for those leaders and to be contributing just a little in my own way.