Read below for our tips, to increase female participation in your programmes. 

Looking at the data 

There were 330,000 young females aged 16 to 24 who were not in employment, education and training (compared to 341,000 young males). We know that a greater proportion of the young people considered to be ‘economically inactive’ (and thus unable to claim Job Seekers Allowance) are female. The Young Women’s Trust found that this is largely because many are ‘looking after family’ and at Street League we see a large proportion of participants with carer responsibilities are female. 

There are other findings that suggest that young females have a more difficult journey to moving into work – because of mind sets developed at a young age and existing inequalities in the workplace . There’s also a gender imbalance in sport participation with ground-breaking campaigns, such as This Girl Can, seeking to address this. 

When Street League set out, in 2014, to increase the number of young females benefiting from our employability through sport programmes, we first looked at our data. Was our Academy programme as impactful for the young women and girls who took part as it was for the males? Yes. The proportion of females who progressed into employment, education or training after the Academy was actually slightly higher than it was for males. It was just that the number of females coming through was dramatically lower. We had 7% female participation on the Academy programme in 2014. 

Speaking with our delivery teams across the country we identified barriers to females joining our programme. The ones that stood out were the lack of other females on the Academy and the sport (football) on offer. We recognised that this didn’t give us insight to the females who weren’t engaging with us at all – so we looked at some of the wider sports development research and listened to partners from around the world who were successfully engaging with young females. In Summer 2015, with support from Barclays, we launched Street League Dance-Fit. 

It was important for us that setting up this new programme wasn’t about turning the logo pink or making it about ‘dance for the girls and football for the boys’. It was an opportunity to try new things, learn, and implement what we found out across the whole organisation. 

What we know 

  • Let participants ‘curate’ their experience. At Street League this means that each young person can choose the colour of their kit and their workbook. In a lot of our Academies we have moved to a ‘rolling intake’ model, which sees young people being able to start with us every Monday. They can join the right programme for them, at the right time. 
  • Be flexible. Many young females who are currently not in work are responsible for family members. We have supported a number of single mums through our programme and being able to offer flexible support options ensured they were able to achieve their potential. 
  • Work in partnership. Having great local partners, who are able to offer support in areas that we cannot, gives young people the greatest chance of success. We have successfully linked with other support services and local authorities to ensure female participants get access to the free childcare to which they’re entitled, receive suitable mental health support, and are aware of the negative impact (social) media can have on their body image.  
  • Make it Social. The thing we promote to young females in particular is that they can meet other young people like them, make friends, and move into work with their friends. 
  • The best people to engage young females are young females. This could be carried across ‘the best people to engage young people are young people’. Street League has had some brilliant Ambassadors through its football connections, including Robin van Persie and Daniel Sturridge. For female participants, we’ve found that high profile Ambassadors might grab their attention but someone they can better relate to, like one of our graduates, is more likely to motivate them to join. 
  • Create a welcoming and inclusive environment. This is good practice in any sport-for-development intervention but it’s especially key to engaging and retaining female participants. 


We have trialled female-only programmes and learned from these as well. As an organisation committed to supporting young people (male and female) into sustainable employment it is important that we properly prepare them for the working world – typically a mixed-gender environment. However, to engage females through sport and fitness, we recognise the value of female-only (sport/fitness) sessions. We have a way to go before we achieve our ambition of 30% female participation across Street League’s programmes in 2019 but at 13% currently, we are delighted with the progress made so far. 


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