An Investigation Into the Presence of Gender Stereotype Threat in British Snowsports and Its Effect on Women in the BASI Instructor Pathway

Written by Casey Purdie, 26th April 2021


I would firstly like to thank my parents, Alex and Karen for their love of Bombardino’s that led to my early introduction to skiing, aged 3. And for never letting me believe that being a girl could inhibit my success in sport, especially not one dominated by males.

I would also like to thank the women in the BASI system who have been so eager to help me with this project, it couldn’t have been produced without you. To the girls I’ve gone through the system with, thanks for being an example of how amazing women are and a reminder of why this research is important.

Thank you also to the friends who have adventured with me over the years and seasons.

Specifically, the Cream Puff Crew (Carrie, Georgia, Holly, Niamh and Tessa) thanks for reminding me on the daily that seasonaire sista’s are the baddest ever, that women can absolutely send it and that no matter what, together we can achieve more. You’re all so incredibly inspiring.

To Helen Ladds and Rhona Aitken, for reading this more times than anyone should ever have to and for your academic assistance along the way.

Finally, thanks to BASI for making me access my A-Level English skills that haven’t been called upon since deciding to become a ski instructor 6 years ago, it’s been a ride.


The United Nations Commission for Human Rights defines gender stereotype as, ‘a generalised view of preconception about attributes or characteristics, or the roles that are or ought to be possessed by, or performed by women and men’, (OHCHR, 2014). Societies drive and seek to uphold behaviours and roles that are deemed acceptable for each gender and these can have a detrimental impact in everyday life, (Guilet et. al, 2006). A gender stereotype becomes especially harmful when a characteristic ascribed to a man or woman limits their ability to pursue certain professional or personal goals, and whilst there has been progress in improving gender equality, gender stereotypes still disadvantage women in the workplace and are less likely than men to be associated with positions of leadership or successful in male-dominated professions, (Latu and Mast, 2015). A clear example of a woman facing negative backlash of gender stereotyping in a historically male dominated field is in the 2016 American Presidential Election. Hilary Clinton faced not only political backlash but also this kind of gendered rhetoric throughout her campaign. Republican supporters were seen sporting badges with slogans such as “don’t be a pussy. vote for trump”, “trump 2016: finally someone with balls”, “kfc hillary special. 2 fat thighs. 2 small breasts … left wing”, (Peter Beinart, 2016).

Gender stereotyping exists at every level of society and sport is no exception. Sport is traditionally considered a male domain. Sport is recognized as playing a relevant societal role to promote education, health, intercultural dialogue, and individual development, regardless of an individual’s gender, race, age, ability, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background, (Caprinica et. al 2013). Despite this potential, sport continues to exhibit disparity with respect to gender equity, with reduced opportunities, budgetary allowances, and social support for girls and women around the world, (Caprinica et. al 2013).

Contemporary studies highlight more engagement in vigorous physical activity in men compared to women. Since childhood, males participate more in motor activities than females (Hines, 2004). In addition, there is evidence of sex differences in important psychological determinants of performance: boys are more motivated than girls to participate in sport, ( Knisel et al., 2009) and physical education classes, (Chen & Darst, 2002), and hold higher perceptions of sport competence (Biddle, et. al 2011; Fredricks & Eccles, 2005). So whilst it is true that physiological differences, such as difference in muscle mass and bone density, exist between men and women, this alone cannot adequately account for the disparity in sport performance and participation, (Chalabaev et. al 2013).

Within sport, research has consistently demonstrated that certain sports have strongly gendered associations. Expressive sports which focus on aesthetics and gracefulness, for instance gymnastics, dancing, and ice-skating are coded feminine and thus practised much more, or almost exclusively, by women, (Latu and Mast, 2015). This is in contrast to masculine coded sports, which tend to be those requiring greater motor skills, such as strength and endurance, which are dominated by men.

These stereotypes limit the ability of women to establish themselves in sport. These beliefs are often internalised at a young age and create conflict with their own ability and performance. Additionally, these beliefs are embedded in the framework of sporting activities, notably in representation, decision and policymaking. As such, women are less represented and have less success in achieving a career in sports professions that are gendered, or regarded as, male. In turn, this has a compounding effect and discourages further women from participating in sports and other related activities.

Moreover, it is documented that women receive less encouragement from their family members and peers when they choose to pursue careers, both within and outwith sport, that are considered masculine. A combination of lack of opportunity, lack of peer group support when they do play sports and lack of encouragement causes them to drop out of sports at a rate that is two times greater than boys (Mim Haigh, Why Sports is Important,2020). These sociological factors at a personal, professional and environmental level incur a detrimental impact on the progression of women in male-dominated areas.

Nevertheless, in approaching these socio-cultural factors as learned behaviour, it becomes possible to envision how they can be changed and the gap in equal representation and engagement of men and women in sports can be significantly reduced. Measures taken deliberately to dismantle restrictive barriers may go a long way in minimising the limiting factors women face.

The main objective of this study is to examine the existence of gender stereotyping in the British Snowsports industry and to determine its influence on the progressive pathway among female BASI instructors. The driving force for this research paper was the observation that there are fewer female instructors within the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) in comparison to men, and in particular, that there is a reduction in the ratio female:male as the qualifications rise from Level 1 to 4, culminating in a significant lack of female BASI Trainers. Out of all BASI Trainers only 15% are female (BASI, 2021). The paper examines the hurdles hindering women from taking up positions and progressing within the Snowsports industry from a feminist framework – with a specific focus on BASI, (James et al., 2019). The paper concludes that the gender stereotyping of women in British Snowsports threatens and limits their pathway to becoming BASI instructors.

Literature Review

Stereotypes are widely accepted judgements about an individual or group of people based on socio-cultural beliefs or norms, (Guillet et al., 2006). Research suggests that when a certain group is aware of negative stereotypes about themselves, it can negatively affect performance in the relevant field (Steele CM et al., (1964). This is known as the stereotype threat. One aspect of stereotype threat is that it is caused by situational factors such as social environment and the information the individual is exposed to.

Latu and Mast, (The effects of stereotypes of women’s performance in male-dominated hierarchies: Stereotype threat activation and reduction through role models, 2015), suggest there are three ways in which gender stereotypes can become apparent: 1) by explicitly stating the groups’ inferiority, for example ‘girls can’t send it’; 2) moderately explicitly, for example stating there are differences between the ability of men and women but not what they are; or 3) implicitly, this may include lack of representation, reduced access to sex appropriate equipment such as women’s skis or apparel, or consistently fewer women in exams or training. In their study, Latu and Mast assert that an awareness of gender stereotypes can negatively impact performance. This is shown in a range of studies demonstrating that women who were aware of negative gender stereotypes performed significantly worse on maths tests and had less interest in a future career in mathematics and engineering, traditionally male dominated industries (Schmader & Johns, 2003).

Dawar and Anand, (2020) state that gender stereotypes can cause unfair and unjust treatment based on a person’s gender. Women are often perceived as more passive, naturally naive and soft, and thus cannot endure physical professions. Exaggerations of gender stereotypes can strain workplace relationships, hindering women from pursuing or be appointed in male-dominated occupations.

Based on the Global Gender Gap Report 2014, women in the UK hold a high percentage of leadership positions in workplaces compared to the rest of the world. In the UK, the female:male ratio was 0.85 and a score of 0.738, ranking 26 out of 142 countries (World Economic Forum, 2014). Yet despite the findings of the above report that placed the UK in the top fifth of countries for gender equality, other research highlights the continued inequality women face. For instance, an article in Independent magazine highlighted that a review to determine compliance to the UK government’s order of a one third gender rule in boardroom positions uncovered that 75% of investigated firms had only a single woman on their board, (Millard, 2018).

The processes that cause underperformance through negative stereotypes are complicated and multidimensional. Schmader, Johns, and Forbes, (An integrated process model of stereotype threat effects on performance. (2008)) argue stereotypes can prejudice social and perceptive performance via precise yet interrelated psychological and physiological activities. Individuals who internalise detrimental stereotypes about personal ability will often avoid situations that elicit feelings of the gender stereotype. Thus, the most harmful effect of stereotype threat is decreased motivation and engagement. Understanding situational cues that signal threats can help reduce the possibility of making stereotype threat assessments and protect women from their effects.


To examine the existence of stereotype threat in the British Snowsports Industry, this study employed both open-ended and closed-ended quantitative questions provided in Table 1 which were given to female BASI instructors across different pathways. Fifty-one (n=51) female BASI instructors were chosen from various levels of BASI pathways by posting the questionnaire to 3 BASI forums on Facebook. The 51 were those who voluntarily opted to participate and were from a diverse age-range and ethnic background. The qualification level of each respondent is provided in Table 2 and is not in line with the breakdown of females at each level within BASI. The data recorded was based on the answers. For the closed-ended questions, the participants were asked questions that were answered based on multiple-choice. In contrast, open-ended questions allowed the participants to provide backup statements about perceived viewpoints and the opportunity to discuss previous questions in more detail. The data was recorded and analysed, as shown in the preceding discussions. The article represents a situational approach that has been developed in mainstream psychology and based on stereotype threat theory through question-based responses to discuss if the mere presence of gender stereotypes in this environment is sufficient to affect an individual’s inclusion and involvement –

Table 1. List of Interview Questions

1. Do you identify as female?
2. Where in the BASI instructor pathway are you?
3.’Women are underrepresented in the BASI pathway’. Do you agree with this statement?
4. In a BASI exam setting, have you ever been in a group with a higher number of females than males?
5. Do you believe your performance is affected when skiing in a group that is male dominant?
6. You’ve been given the task ‘Ski a direct line through a bumps field at or above the minimum speed, half-way down use a bump to take air and land in a different line before continuing down to the bottom’. In which of the following scenarios would you feel most comfortable to take on this task?
7. As a female in the ski industry, you are driven to prove that women can ski as skillfully as men.
8. When performing in challenging tasks, you fear that by failing you might confirm that women aren’t as capable as men in high-level skiing.
9. ‘Girls can’t send it’. What do you have to say about this? Do you agree/ disagree? This is an open question, and any answer is acceptable.

Results and Analysis

The data was analysed across the primary theme of the existence of gender stereotypes in snow sports and its influence on BASI pathway progression among women.

Table 2. Questionnaire

1. Do you identify as female? n=51
Yes 50 98%
No 0 0%
Not Indicated 1 2%
2. Where in the instructor pathway are you?
BASI Instructor Level Number Percentage
Level 1 3 5.88%
Level 2 18 37.25%
Level 3 ISA 12 23.53%
Level 4 ISTD 16 31.37%
Not Indicated 1 1.96%
3. ‘Women are underrepresented in the BASI pathway’. Do you agree with this statement?
Yes 43 84.31%
No 8 15.69%
4. In a BASI exam setting, have you ever been in a group with a higher number of females than males?
Yes 8 15.69%
No 43 84.31%
5. Do you believe your performance is affected when skiing in a group that is male dominant?
Yes 25 49%
No 26 51%
6. You’ve been given the task ‘Ski a direct line through a bumps field at or above the minimum speed, half-way down use a bump to take air and land in a different line before continuing down to the bottom’. In which of the following scenarios would you feel most comfortable to take on this task?
In a group 50% male, 50% female 12 23.5%
In an all-female group 13 25.5%

Your group setting does not affect how confident you would be to take on the task 26 51%
In a group 70% Male, 30% Female 0 0%
7. As a female in the ski industry, you are driven to prove that women can ski as skillfully as men?
Strongly Agree 32 62.75%
Agree 12 23.53%
Disagree 2 3.92%
Neutral 5 9.80%
8. When performing in challenging tasks, you fear that by failing, you might confirm that women are not as capable as men in high-level skiing.
Strongly Agree 7 13.73%
Agree 17 31.37%
Disagree 12 23.53%
Strongly Disagree 7 13.73%
Neither agrees/disagree 8 15.69%
9. ’Girls can’t send it’. What do you have to say about this? Do you agree or disagree? This is an open question, and any answer is acceptable.
Agree 4 8%
Disagree 46 92%


From the results, it is evident that gender stereotypes exist in the BASI community. Many female instructors are aware of the impact of gender and gender stereotypes. 84% of respondents saw women as underrepresented and only 15% had ever been in a group with more women than men. This is also reflected on a much larger scale – with female professional skiers having less funding, air time and sponsors. The study found that some BASI women believe girls do not have similar hype, attention, and resources or sponsorship as males in snow sports – one member noting in the open ended questions:

Girls can send it just as hard. There just hasn’t been many girls who had the same hype and attention as men or the resources/ sponsorships thrown at them as their male counterparts”.

Another member stated:

“males in sport whether it be skiing or otherwise are televised and more widely shown than females hence it isn’t perceived that girls can have the same capabilities.

Beyond the decrease in female instructors at the upper levels in the BASI pathway, the women who do remain at L3 and above are not free from the impact of gender and gender stereotypes. Almost half of the female instructors questioned believed male dominance influenced their participation in snowsports in one way or another, with 49% saying they feel their performance was affected in male dominated groups, (Question 5). Member’s noted different ways in which their performance was impacted, in both positive and negative ways:

“I quite often feel like I have more to prove, because my training group is very male heavy. But this just pushes me harder and makes me perform better” (Level 3).

“I can cite numerous examples both positive and negative, from my own experience of going through the system of times where I felt crushed by the climate within a training group and times where I felt empowered.” (Level 4).

“There have been countless times when men in a training environment have made me feel like I am a lesser skier than I am due to their poor choice of words”(Level 3).

It’s clear through heightened self awareness and doubt in abilities as well as the opposing drive to succeed and prove others wrong that there are both positive and negative impacts on performance from an individual’s training environment. This aligns with wider evidence suggesting that marginalised groups are often aware of the stereotypes particular to themselves and focus their attention on the deleterious aspects of such stereotypes, (Schmalz and Kerstetter, 2006). This awareness has a twofold consequence. Firstly, harmful gender stereotypes are internalised at a young age, leading to confidence and self-esteem issues, and overall discouraging girls from engaging with a masculine coded sport, (Dawar and Anand, 2020). External factors are also at play here. Heidrich and Chiviacowsky (2015) point out that the internalisation of gender stereotypes sets men up to expect women to fail when they attempt masculine-coded tasks and in turn, provoking embarrassment and a fear of failure in women. This huge pressure and fear of failure, whether real or internalised factors, while it might drive some women on to succeed, could have a huge negative impact on others and be a clear reason behind the drop out ratio. All of this ultimately results in lower female participation in the instructor pathway, with the percentage of female members dropping from 33% with a Level 1 qualification to just 19% with Level 4 (BASI, 2021).

Secondly, many of the women who do go on to be trainers in the sport are aware of the negative stereotypes and feel they have something to prove. In response to Question 9 two female trainers wrote similar responses:

I definitely always do my best to try to show that women can ski as skilfully and send it as much as men. As a Trainer I feel a responsibility to do so. I definitely push myself more than I otherwise would when I try to prove myself as a female Trainer surrounded by male candidates and colleagues. (LEVEL 4 & Current Trainer)

and similarly:

“I was a trainer from around 2004 to 2017. Both as a level 4 and a trainer I always felt, as a woman, I had something to prove.” (Level 4 and retired Trainer).

When asked if they were worried that failure to complete a challenging task would reinforce the stereotype that women were less capable than men, 45% answered that they Agreed or Strongly Agreed that they were, (Question 8), and more than 86% of respondents answering they felt pressured to prove women’s capability to perform as well as their male counterparts, (Question 7). Commenting in the open ended questions:

“ I definitely relate to the questions about having to prove that women are as capable as men at skiing! A male ski instructor once told me that it’s easier to compete in freestyle competitions as a woman because the level is so much lower.“

This response is supported by Kray and Shirako (2012) who argue that stereotype threats affect how much a targeted group or individuals care about excelling in specific environments that exhibit stereotype cues.

Even those who answered “No” when asked if the gender composition of a group affects their performance (Question 5) or who said they felt as confident in a mixed group (Question 6) were not unaware of latent gender stereotypes, evident in the responses to Questions 7 and 8.

Moreover, gender stereotypes are ingrained in everyday language and comments. Phrases such as ‘girls can’t send it’, ‘ski like a girl’, and ‘send it for boys’, indicate gender as a factor impacting performance regardless of the intention of the one saying it. This additional factor adds another layer for women to compete against, beyond individual ability, personal characteristics, attributes, motivation, self-belief, confidence, strength, and muscle mass, (Huber, Brown, and Sternad, 2016). Many female instructors considered such phrases demeaning and annoying, and impacting their sense of belonging. This is evident in the written responses to Question 9:

“Although these are all just little throwaway comments, they shape our perceptions of ourselves and others. Unfortunately in this male-dominated industry, these comments exacerbate an already apparent feeling of inferiority to men; a feeling of lesser competence. Women are perpetually underestimated based on their gender, and we have to start answering back to such comments, and educating people about how this language can be a detrimental determinant of our send level! Which is disastrous! Disempowering comments feed into our sense of self-belief and confidence in our abilities, which as I said at the beginning, is a key determinant of ‘sendiness’! I could go on…! Let’s empower women, and men, to believe in themselves, and reach full send potential!”

“I can’t see how this statement could possibly be considered realistic. ‘Send levels’ are surely entirely individual and based on previous experiences which will affect confidence and/or fear levels.”

“I’m a female skier, and I identify as a feminist and I champion women in sport, I want to be able to say that female skiers are “just as good as men” or that we don’t have to worry about not being seen in the same light. But I can’t say that, because it isn’t true. Not because I also think that “girls can’t send it”, but for the very fact that this is a phrase we’ve all heard and never heard the reverse of unless it’s a joke. We will always be compared to men, and it will always be a downward comparison, no matter how good we are. I have to acknowledge in my answer that the industry I work in does not respect my gender, in the same way it does for men. It’s beyond frustrating.”


Gender plays a significant role in society and has been at the centre of debate and discussion in recent years. Snowports is no exception to this and gender and gender stereotypes have a role to play within the industry. Whilst respondents to this study felt that women were underrepresented in the BASI pathway and suggested an awareness of gender stereotypes and the impact it has on them, many also believed that gender disparities in British snow-sports are slowly changing. Noting in the open ended questions:

“I didn’t always have as many high level women around me. I do think this is now changing and it’s awesome to see. I’ve now got lots more women around to ‘send it’ with and I love that”,(Level 4)

“the more all girl groups and training options popping up in resorts has made me think a change is coming and that there are certain members with influence who can and are already helping change the underrepresentation of women in the system”. (Level 2)

“I used to be unmotivated to progress further with my ISIA, specifically the technical element. But seeing more women I know overcome challenges and reach the top level has inspired me to continue. I think it’s great that we can now at least have the option to train with only women. But also that through this a lot of men have also increased their knowledge in how the can help and support us”(Level 2)

Their attitudes align with other studies which argue that women’s participation has improved over time, (Messner, 2011). However, the male hegemony in snow sports, the institutionalised anti-feminine phrases, and minimal support for aspiring female instructors still exist as barriers to women’s engagement and success in the industry.

Female instructors showed an awareness of gender stereotypes and most actively worked to counter them, whether they felt that gender played a significant part in their performance or not. Female instructors agreed that it is the responsibility of female instructors to champion for equality as a mechanism of eliminating gender stereotypes.

The breaking of established gender stereotypes and the perceptions that limit women’s success in snow sports will require a concerted effort, and begins with investing in grassroots activities to inspire women and girls. Programs like She Jumps , co-founded by pro skier Lynsey Dyer, which focus on cultivating leadership ability and identity, hold great potential in protecting from stereotype threat. Women’s Progessions Sessions in Tignes & Val D’Isere set up by ISTD coaches Corinne Mayhew, India Cairns and Amy Twigge, Women’s Mountain Club by Fay Mackman, Niaomh O’Hagan and Rachel Kerr in Chamonix & Morzine and GRL PWdR by

Niamh Gale and myself in Zermatt – are just some examples of qualified BASI Instructors and creatives who are investing time into enabling women to have full access to the mountains.

These groups all champion mottos similar to “For Women by Women” to try and inspire more women and girls to get involved in the Snowsports Industry and mountain lifestyle in an inclusive and comfortable.

On a much larger scale, via Instagram, other women’s communities such as the Slut Strand Society and Womb Tang have gained a huge following (over 30,000 combined) in the last 5 years. Womb Tang and their affiliated page Womb Cork (mostly memes) have received an incredible response to their own way of opening conversations about the difficulties women face in snowsports. Notably; soft ski boots, women’s clothing sizing, colour schemes, menstruation and self confidence. This platform gives voice to individuals, allowing more personal experiences of women in a male dominated industry to be shared. Womb Tang are actively trying to dismantle internalised misogyny within the snowsports industry, in a relevant, dark humoured fashion.

In recent years, big ski brands have also began to launch more women’s specific movements: Rossignol’s “We Rise and Volkl’s “Just Like That” are two examples of brands with influence using their platform to create a more inclusive and encouraging environment for women.

BASI leadership should continue to proactively develop ways to reduce gender stereotype threats as they have been doing in more recent years. Recently appointing Hannah Bryans as the Alpine Product Owner is a progressive move, by having more female role models in senior positions, there’s potential to encourage participation and progression. The formation of the “Women in BASI” forum by the current female trainers and the work being done by individual members of BASI is a step in the right direction.

Ultimately, women deserve equal access to all that the snow-sports industry has to offer and as social discourses continue to focus on the betterment of women’s rights and the dismantling of out-dated and regressive attitudes, the snow-sports industry, and BASI, must continue to work actively to counter the impact of gender stereotypes and gender discrimination.


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