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Volume 22 No. 3
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How should the industry address the challenges women face working in sports?

Portia Archer: There is an old adage, “You get what you inspect, not what you expect.” If men and women alike, in the sports industry and beyond, just expect and hope for challenges to be met or overcome, it may never happen and we all lose out. We have to hold each other accountable for results and progress, just as we do when we plan for success in achieving business goals and overcoming business challenges. … As a member of NBC Universal’s Stamford Women’s Network, I championed the launch of NBC Sports Group’s circle mentorship program, open to both men and women.

Kathy Beauregard: The sport industry needs to accept the fact that women should not be held at any other standards than men.

Carrie Brzezinski-Hsu: Research focused around women in sports shows that men’s perceptions about gender and the gender gap differ from women’s. We should foster more discussions between women and men because if men in leadership roles don’t see problems, then they can’t be part of fixing them.

Alba Colon: I’ve seen my industry make great strides, but we must continue to develop opportunities and do more to promote motorsports as a viable career path for talented women.

Jen Cramer: The issues facing women are not limited to the sports industry. The burden of making a choice between career or family still falls primarily on women. This is a much larger societal issue, but there are ways to mitigate the challenge such as hiring leaders with diversity of thought, actively promoting women into senior positions and aiming to implement “women-friendly” policies (such as flexible working hours).

Mary Ellen Curran: Provide more leadership opportunities for women across all sectors of the sports industry.

Kathy Duva: They should listen to our voices when we speak. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with women in business. You’re in a meeting, you say something, and nobody pays any attention. A few minutes later, a guy says the same thing and everybody nods their head. If people would stop tuning us out and recognize the value of those ideas and that work ethic, they’ll want to hire more women, as I have [at Main Events].

Janet Evans: Just because a woman might not have competed in a male-dominated sport, it doesn’t mean that she can’t understand the nuances and specifics of being a successful administrator within that sport.

Whitney Haslam Johnson: The trucking industry is heavily weighted with male leaders, so for many years now that’s the environment I have been operating in. I just try to be myself — always confident in my ability to do the job. My grandmother and mom both set a great example for me. The key is providing equal opportunities and, ideally, qualified, successful woman will continue to take on leadership roles.

Lynn Holzman: As leaders, we all have a responsibility to provide opportunities for women. It can’t stop there. We all have a responsibility to provide a supportive environment for individuals to be successful in all facets of their life — work, home, family, health and well-being.

Ashlee Huffman: That’s a big topic that will only truly be solved with a fundamental change in thinking. The industry needs to do the basics from providing outlets to address discrimination to setting the right tone in their culture; however, women can control their own destinies. Women need to be confident and value the thinking and abilities they bring — just as each person, regardless of gender, brings a unique perspective.

Michelle Johnson: The advantage of sports operations, referee operations in my case, is that performance can be the measure. As with my pilot experience, the bottom line can be measured in outcomes. If all people are measured by that standard, the benefits of talents and creativity from all corners speak for themselves. However, the emotions and passions surrounding sports can sometimes get in the way.

Diane Karle: Create a more unified environment, and the opportunity for women to learn leadership skills earlier in their careers.

Michelle Kennedy: Candidly, this is a tough question for me because I have never felt limited in this industry by being a woman. I see myself as a reliable, competent professional and I want people to see me the same way, regardless of my gender. … In the interest of continuous improvement, the industry should provide fair opportunities to the most talented people; my very simple hope is that women will pursue opportunities they are passionate about, without unfair or incorrect bias about this industry not being welcoming to women.

Nona Lee: Focus on inclusion. I recently came to understand that diversity and inclusion are both tremendously important goals. We can’t stop at diversity, which sometimes means focusing on the numbers. We must move in a meaningful and thoughtful way beyond filling positions with diverse candidates, to being truly inclusive and providing meaningful opportunities for women, and all diverse populations, to advance into significant leadership positions in this industry.

Sandra Lopez: Change the mindset that women do not have a role in sports.

Neera Mahajan Shetty: The industry needs to be open to new perspectives and understand that it must affirmatively reach out to women and create an environment that encourages women’s participation. A particular sport and the industry as a whole will not succeed long term if it can’t get more women to participate as athletes and/or spectators.

Yvette Martinez-Rea: It’s my belief that we need to start with changing the very simple, but very powerful, misconception that women have less to offer than their male counterparts in the business of sports. To start, we need to change the mindsets of those women who hold themselves back. 

Laila Mintas: That’s a cultural change that needs to happen in society overall. The sports industry could take the lead by treating men and women equally.

Liz Moulton: Leadership matters. Leagues and teams should not elevate or reward leaders who don’t empower women. The generation that came up with too few women in leadership roles and accepted this? They should either get with the times or move into retirement.

Joanne Pasternack: Take a cue from innovative human resource initatives originating in Silicon Valley and other fast-paced, forward-thinking regions. Trust your employees to work hard and exceed expectations but allow them to flex around how and when they accomplish nonscheduled tasks (exclusive of games, events and similar). Reward them with flexibility and life-enhancing benefits (parental leave, on-site fitness and nutrition programs, flexible work schedules when appropriate) versus hollow praise or unnecessary or excessive items. 

Lara Pitaro Wisch: We should continue efforts to increase female participation and interest in our sports; expand outreach and mentoring programs that enable us to hire more women and to support the women we hire; and take steps to empower our talented women to assume more leadership roles.

Hania Poole: The bottom line is, there has to be more women in more powerful positions for there to be change. We are getting there, but slowly. I am lucky to be where I am because I have a very supportive leadership team and company. But I am sometimes in meetings, externally, where I am dismissed, and it’s always the organizations that do not have women in leadership positions that are the worst offenders. It has to change … in the front office, in the boardroom, within the leagues. Across the board.

Jennifer Pope: It’s on the right track. I honestly think sports is becoming a leader in this area. Here at the Kings, I would say half, if not more of our staff, is female, and AEG continues to push our leadership to be at the forefront.

Lara Price: In our organization we strive to create a working environment that is inclusive, encouraging and safe.

Marianne Rotole: When I look at this list of Game Changers and the growing number of women in positions of influence in the industry, I can’t help but feel optimistic. Strides have been taken by many female pioneers and strong leaders to get us to where we are today. As an industry, we need to champion that momentum. As individuals and as leaders, we need to remain vigilant in cultivating environments that allow all professionals a fair opportunity to learn, grow and excel.

Kristen Salvatore: Be human in your dealings with all other humans. Be fair. Be honest. Give credit freely and happily. Amplify others’ good ideas and achievements as regularly as you do your own. Adopt and model Shine Theory: When you shine, I shine. When I shine, you shine. Insist on these things being the rule and not the exception for everyone within your sphere.

Morgan Shaw Parker: We should all be looking for opportunities to ensure there is diversity on all levels, and across all disciplines in the work place. We need more women in leadership positions — both on and off the field of play. We also need to do a better job of understanding what is important to them — flexible work environments, family support, maternity/parental leave/adoption, etc. I’m fortunate to work for an organization that values these things.

Sara Toussaint: Approach this topic similarly to other important causes: Create awareness and then advocate for change. The past two years, Leah LaPlaca of ESPN recruited a strong group of women (and a few men!) to task forces to address these well-known issues. A key takeaway from those meetings: What consistent steps have you taken toward advancing women in leadership positions? If you don’t have answers, it’s time to do some work.

Cyndie Wang: More women in high-profile roles who are visible in the industry, who can champion cultural shifts within their organizations towards a more egalitarian culture and who will pave the way for more women to come after them.

Nichol Whiteman: Talk about it. The sports industry has the chance to create an equal playing field for women that other industries will mirror. By developing creative professional development opportunities for women, teams across all sports can leverage the talent of a demographic that speaks to other women.

Chie Chie Yard: I think there should be more mentoring in sports, not just by women for women, but men should mentor women, too. If we only had women advocating for women, then it will continue to be an uphill battle. Men and women both need to be working together to better advance everyone towards a better work environment.