July 25 2019

Why The US Woman's Football Team Is Leading The Charge

Travel back in time to any 1950s soccer stadium, and much would be eerily the same: the usual chatter would be heard from left to right, and eyeballs would be seen fixed to their favourite player to the slurp of some caffeinated beverage.

Photo credit :  US-Women-GettyImages-1160858454

Photo credit: US-Women-GettyImages-1160858454

However, even mentioning the concept of a ‘female athlete’ is where these similarities would end; pink-wearing cheerleaders would stare at you like an alien from another planet, and even the most corporate of female employees down the road would seem startled with bemusement – gender roles were clear, and sport set a prime example.

Ultimately, women may have long-enjoyed equal rights legally in a setting such as a workplace environment – but many archaic expectations for women still linger, and the thrill of the soccer stadium only brings this primal bias to the surface.

But in 2019, this undercurrent of gender bias may be about to make a turn: players such as Megan Rapinoe not only signal the important ‘girls can too’ message of aspiring female athletes – but are also turning heads outside the sports stadium, with high-performers across many domains seeking to investigate this female flare.



In a domain where unproductive gender biases still run rampant, role models such as Megan Rapinoe should not be taken for granted: for young girls aspiring to be a leader in any domain, the standard set in the sports stadium could be the final confidence boost women need for a truly even playing field.

However, according to one study at the University of Birmingham, the recent winnings of top female athletes may have more than meets the eye. When compared to their male counterparts, natural differences in team behaviour in-turn create a more ‘cooperative’ training environment (McGuigan, 2011): unlike male teams, this possible difference in ‘social wiring’ for equitable task coordination may direct more time to underperforming team members – and therefore ensure that all team players are prepared and motivated collectively for the big day.

But in addition to explaining this possible ‘edge’ among female team members in supporting other team members, similar differences in team cooperation may also be creating a boost to productivity in commercial organisations: Bloomberg anchor Emily Chang not only presents a compelling case in her book ‘Brotopia’ for how subconscious gender biases create ‘invisible barriers’ for women seeking to climb the corporate ladder; but also how larger organisations deliberately promote female project managers as a means of standardising equitable management styles – and their productivity benefits.

Ultimately, as archaic ‘command and control’ breaks down when coordinating modern tasks and projects, industry giants are turning to less-intuitive and ‘alien’ methodologies to maintain their competitive edge – and this means incorporating the more equitable management styles found naturally among female executives.



Without a doubt, failing to recognise ego-like behaviours as a boost to training intensity may be a costly mistake – but allowing toxic behaviours to go unchecked could be the recipe that brings your team down on the big day.

As French footballer Zidane would point out, every athlete has his reckoning: being suspended by a major football league for physically head butting a team player might be the soundbite that makes the headline – but the footballer would be the first to point out that this was a culmination of many unchecked behaviours that could have managed better to begin with.

However, although un-managed behaviours may surface as fatal failures during the actual game, one study at the University of Birmingham suggests that inadequate management of confidence-related behaviours can undermine the natural benefits of self-confidence during the training period: these traits handicap team member communication, and create a ‘domino chain reaction effect’ that undermines judgement; productive self-reflection; and the moral functioning between members of different skill-levels (Ntoumanis, 2015).

Ultimately, this highlights that existing ego management methodologies may be yet to strike a productive balance between the benefits and natural blind-spot that can arise from a ‘confidence-driven’ team culture – but this may also point towards a lack of in-person leadership that naturally ‘tunes’ team members away from unproductive behaviours before they have a chance to escalate.


Percentage of male and female board members of the 14 International Sports Federations representing Paralympic Sports. WIB Report, 2016


However, as news anchors such as Emily Chang dig deeper into the differences that separate industry giants from their smaller counterparts, this same trait also re-emerges within corporate teams: as organisations become increasingly data-driven and focused on results that can be sustained over the long-term, this in-turn makes the confidence towards a perceived project target less relevant (Nicholl, 2016) – ‘testosterone targets’ become a barrier to achieving project goals, not a benefit.



As soccer fans marvel at the roaring win of Megan Rapinoe and her team members, this rejuvenated re-evaluation of archaic team behaviours and leadership methodologies may mark the turning point for how teams – both in sport and commercial enterprise – value the flare female differences bring to the table.

However, perhaps the biggest success of female executers such as Megan Rapinoe is their ability to push through sexist expectations set by a male-dominated environment – and leverage this humility as fuel to learn. And when we shift over to the business domain and discuss with female executers such as Sheryl Samberg, this same by-product of ‘reaction learning’ re-appears; which in her case, enabled her to surpass her male colleagues – and rise to the top.

Overall, whether under the pressure of the London trading floor or executing in the soccer stadium; female leaders not only know how to leverage their natural flare – but also how to transform humility into a ‘learning fuel’ that can rocket progress to the next level.


In this week’s newsletter, as we explored into the latest win of US soccer player Megan Rapinoe, we decided to delve into some of the underlying behavioural advantages that female executers leverage to get ahead – and these principles can be applied to both the sport and business leaders.

If you happen to be a sports coach or business leader responsible for managing a team including both men and women, consider the following tasks to maximise team productivity:

  1. Ditch ‘command and control’ for lateral communication: as the larger organisations make clear, the intuition you might be following when organising your team culture may not only be socially marginalising your female team members – but may also be blinding your team from realistic performance targets. Instead, consider ‘officialising’ a management style and meeting structure that favours lateral communication over vertical ‘command and control’. This will unlock productive collaboration between your team colleagues and ensure that projects are structured using the same mindset as the giants in your industry.

  2. Make team learning systematic: as you decide to leave behind Emily Chang’s ‘Brotopia’ that may have primarily served as a ‘coping mechanism’ during your phase as a fragile start-up – consider imposing a ‘culture of learning’ among your core team: this systematic approach to humility and active learning can be used to emulate the ‘reaction learning’ that have given leaders such as Sheryl Samberg the final push needed to rise.

Apply to a CONQA invite-only seminar: building on the principles of ‘synergistic learning’ found commonplace within the corporate giants of your industry, this effect of reaction learning works best when transmitted top-down from you as the team leader. Our CONQA seminars may not be for the faint of hearted – but are an efficient method of compressing decades of collective experience and leadership methodologies across all domains, and then enabling you to distil this data in-team for your next team meeting.