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Volume 25 No. 155
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MLS Continues To Run Ahead Of Global Game With Diversity

Diversifying MLS' front office was in Garber's view a reflection of the league's overall vision and identity
Photo: MARC BRYAN-BROWN

MLS Commissioner Don Garber said there was a moment about 15 years ago where the league realized that it needed to make diversity within its own exec ranks a business priority. “We were a league that was about representing the hopes and dreams of diverse communities and players, and we had a bunch of white men making all the rules -- it didn’t make sense to me,” Garber said at the '18 SBJ Game Changers conference. “Diversifying our front office meant reflecting our overall vision and would provide us with an opportunity to represent the real identity that was behind our positioning and brand identity, which was a league for a new America.” How MLS has made diversity and inclusion business imperatives was the main focus of a more than 30-minute conversation between Garber and former Soccer United Marketing President Kathy Carter, who recently was the first woman to run for the position of U.S. Soccer President. Garber noted how as a commissioner, as well as a parent of children who relay their own workplace experiences to him, he spends time every day thinking about how the league can embrace diversity, especially in hiring practices. For example, one of the final steps for MLS job applicants is to take part in a work-test environment, seeing how they would react under pressure. MLS Chief Administrative & Social Responsibility Officer JoAnn Neale suggested that those tests should be evaluated anonymously, so that the focus was more on how good the applicant was rather than their gender, their past work experience or even where they went to school.

LONG WAY TO GO GLOBALLY: While MLS has made strides in this department, Garber said the global soccer game "has a long way to go.” He referenced a quote from former FIFA President Sepp Blatter who said if women’s soccer players wore shorter shorts, the game would be more popular. “We as an industry have done a better job, but I think we’re in the third chapter of a 10-chapter book,” Garber said. “When I started at the NFL in 1984, I don’t think there was a single woman working in NFL Properties at the time. There are three women who are members of our MLS board. This is just the beginning.” Asked about equal pay among men and women pro players, Garber said officials "need to find ways to drive revenue to the women’s sports industry.” Garber: “It requires a business that makes sense, and we need to find a way to pay salaries these players deserve, but in a way that is mindful.” He said that he believes women’s sports “can’t just be about cause,” and “have to be able to provide an opportunity for players, coaches and administrators.” Garber said MLS will continue to work towards improvement in these areas, encouraging others in the sports industry to do the same. “When I walk around our office and I see a staff that reflects our diverse fans and players, it gives me as much pride as anything that we’ve been able to accomplish,” he said.