Cultural moments can define generations as young people champion causes that come to a head during their formative years. For Boomers, one such movement was the push toward civil rights and racial equality; for Millennials, it was LBGT rights, and for Gen Zs (who are currently aged 20 and younger), it may well be gender equality.
From being considerate of transgender individuals and fighting for their rights to reclaiming feminism and working for women’s rights to embracing non-traditional gender roles at home and in relationships, teenage Zs—both young men and young women—are poised to rewrite society’s rules regarding gender. Yet a key aspect of their lives has yet to fall into lockstep with this mindset that Gen Z is bringing to bear on society: Sports.
Seven in 10 Gen Zs aged 14 to 19 say sports are an important part of pop culture, according to our latest research, and as such, they are a big part of teens’ lives. However, the category is incongruous with their perspective of prioritizing human rights, and gender equality specifically. As they’re striving to make the world a better place, the sports industry is out of step with the rest of the brands and industries they love.
In fact, fully half of teenage Zs think that sports are behind society when it comes to gender equality. While they have many more female athlete role models to look up to ranging from Serena Williams to Ronda Rousey to Alex Morgan, they’re well aware that female athletes don’t make as much money as their male counterparts. They also know that women are far less represented on sports sidelines, team staff, and board rooms, particularly in male-dominated sports.
In fact, a third of teens have watched a women’s sporting event in the past year, as did two-thirds of young trendsetters overall, suggesting this is a shift that will only grow. To that point, the U.S. women’s national soccer team has surpassed the U.S. men’s national team in popularity, though the teams’ pay is not reflective of this trend. Zs’ support for women in sports goes beyond simply tuning in to include speaking up as female sports announcers are given a shot and take very public abuse from male fans. The same goes for the limited number of women who are in coaching positions in major sports (particularly when they’re coaching men).
Considering that young people today look to brands to help them further their agenda of social and cultural progress, it should come as no surprise that more than 6 in 10 teens think that sports should strive to be a platform for societal change. The same goes for the brands that support the industry through advertising and partnerships.
A few years ago, the “Like A Girl” campaign from Always brought national attention to biases toward female athletes, but there is much work to be done. Teenage Zs won’t accept tone-deaf ads that aren’t reflective of the true spectrum of sports fans and the people—both men and women—that play a role in the games they love. Those that make an effort toward making American sports more equal in terms of gender will earn young fans’ respect for helping them improve society and the world in a way that strongly resonates with Gen Z.