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Volume 22 No. 19
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Inclusive leadership and the courage to change

Adrian Williams — senior director of diversity and community marketing, Atlanta Braves. Edwin Moses — Olympic champion, 400 meter hurdles, 1976 and 1984; chairman, United States Anti-Doping Agency; chairman; Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. David Wall Rice — professor of psychology and director of the Institute for Social Justice Inquiry and PraXis at the Andrew Young Center for Global Leadership, Morehouse College. Nzinga Shaw — chief diversity and inclusion officer, Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena.
Photo: joann vitelli / atlanta business chronicle; photo illustration by liz spangler

The sports industry’s willingness to adopt a mindset of inclusion and diversity of thought was top of mind last month when Sports Business Journal invited thought leaders in diversity and inclusion to participate in a roundtable discussion at the offices of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. The four individuals brought different insights based on their personal and professional experiences — the Atlanta Hawks’ Nzinga Shaw and the Atlanta Braves’ Adrian Williams each from inside professional teams; Edwin Moses as an Olympic champion in the 1970s and ’80s and now as a leader in domestic and international organizations around sport; and David Wall Rice as a researcher and psychology professor at Morehouse College.

The conversation, led by SBJ’s Abe Madkour and Betty Gomes, covered inclusive leadership, building a diverse hiring pipeline and buy-in from senior leadership to attract and retain a diverse workforce and fan base. The discussion was edited for clarity and brevity.

Come back to this story throughout the week to see video excerpts of the discussion.

PROGRESS ON DIVERSITY IN SPORTS BUSINESS

We’ve talked a lot about the efforts of the sports business and the sports industry to become more diverse, specifically in the executive ranks. In 2019, where are we?

NZINGA SHAW: The sports industry has come a long way in the past several years as it relates to having people of color, women, LGBTQ in positions of power. What I will say is that because there are an influx of diversity and inclusion officers in sports [and] entertainment, I think that they have had a concerted effort and have been very intentional about identifying talent on the outside, looking in new and unexpected places for people to add value in the senior ranks. And so we are starting to see an influx of these type of individuals within sports organizations. I don’t think that we would get an A if we’re grading this in terms of our ability to really penetrate the industry the way that we should. But I certainly think that we are far ahead of where we have been in the past several years.

ADRIAN WILLIAMS: I would echo that. And in Major League Baseball, I think it’s a really interesting space right now. They’ve created a diversity council where the team presidents and owners are actually coming together and having conversations around diversity and inclusion, which also includes the ideas on how are you getting more diverse senior leaders into baseball, and what does that mean from a business perspective, as well as thinking about diversity on the field. … I also think it’s really interesting that the city of Atlanta is really taking the lead as it relates to senior leaders and diversity. I know you were one of the first [speaking to Shaw], if not the first in the NBA, and I’m one of the first in MLB. 

Inclusive Leadership Series: Room for Improvement

In this sixth and final installment, participants chat about areas that can be improved for inclusive leadership in the sports industry. All six installments can be found here.

 

DAVID WALL RICE: I’m a little bit of a fish out of water here because I’m a researcher, psychology professor and a fan, right? So I’m somebody who’s on the outside. So I certainly do think, though, that what’s been said resonates. It seems like we’re far ahead of where we were, if I look at and take the temperature about five years ago or so. The thing that I would say is that it becomes important for us to continue to push. I think diversity doesn’t just look diverse, it becomes important to have diverse voices and diverse perspectives. A lot of times what can happen is, because you have this person who is from this population, or from this group, the thinking is that, “OK, well, here we go. We’re diverse as default.”

Being that sport is such a juggernaut in terms of being able to present as influential and as a demarcator of where popular culture is, I look forward to more progress and push.

EDWIN MOSES: My perspective is very different. Because when I was competing many, many years ago, you could barely find a sports journalist at a football game, black sports journalist. Football, basketball, there were very few, just a handful nationally. And my sport was international, so I saw a lot more diversity internationally because you have people from all over the world. But there certainly has been a change. The U.S. Olympic Committee was a very non-diverse organization when I competed, but it’s changed a lot and they’re taking a lot of different steps. But I’m very happy to see people that look like me, people of color in all segments of sports in the United States. And because you have people like Nzinga who is in a position to recruit more people, discuss what’s needed with the upper management and draw people in, it’s very, very good.

Where are the pain points? Where do they remain, where you still find a little bit of resistance in this process?

MOSES: I was at a conference during the Super Bowl, the GladiatHers conference. And they were talking about diversity. And it was mostly women. And I stood up and made a comment that, one of the problems that I’ve seen and that I know exists, is that there’s a lot of … situations where there are simply white men who are waiting to roll uphill in certain situations that have been around. [They] have the tenure, and [are] just waiting for the position versus [organizations] going out and finding diversity.

Nzinga Shaw said there is an opportunity at the senior level of sports operations for greater diversity.
Photo: joann vitelli / atlanta business chronicle

Just a couple of days ago, I had a conversation with a gentleman here in town who is in real estate. And he said he was looking for black executives in real estate [for] a real estate investment company that he owned. And he said he couldn’t find any. … And I told him, “If you can’t find it here in Atlanta, frankly you’re not looking. Because you’re in a place where perhaps you have more people like that in diverse businesses, CFOs, college presidents here in Atlanta than almost anywhere in the country, people of color.” And I told him, “You’re not looking hard enough, because it’s right underneath your nose.” So that is a problem.

SHAW: If we look collectively at the leagues and the teams, another area for improvement would be at the very, very senior levels of the operation side. There are obviously great stories like Masai Ujiri and Lloyd Pierce, and coaches and GMs that are starting to break into the sports industry at the highest levels. But there is a vast majority of these positions being held by white men. I mean, I look at my league at the NBA, and looking at all of the team presidents and CEOs, we have one woman who is in charge of an organization, Cynthia [Marshall] who runs the Dallas Mavericks. Other than that, they’re all white men. And so I think there’s an opportunity for us to really think at the most senior levels of the organization that run strategy, that really think about how the organization is making money and impacting the bottom line. 

Someone told me recently they thought women feel less welcome in a sports business organization than potentially people of color. Do you sense that at all? Are we seeing more progress in either gender or ethnic hiring?

SHAW: I’m in an interesting position because I happen to be a woman and I’m a person of color. I will say that I do not feel that my gender has been a hindrance or has made me feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. What I will say is that, when you are in a sports organization which is primarily run by men, and you happen to be one of the only women in the room, you’ve got to be an A-type personality if your voice is going to be heard. And so that is some of the pushback and the challenge that I have felt. Although I do consider myself to be an A-type individual, I will say that I’ve had to exercise my voice a lot louder, or perhaps interject before someone finishes their statement, to be heard.

WILLIAMS: What we try to do, at least at the Braves, is help educate our senior leaders and provide them opportunities for understanding and learning, which helps us push forward as we think about diversity, both in the workforce, on the field, and then as we think about our business as well. And we’ve seen that over the last two to three years there’s been a shift in the mindset, and a lot of that’s just because we’ve had other diverse thinkers in the room. That has allowed us to grow our fan base, that’s allowed us to really diversify our workforce. And you see that change in our business, but also in our front office.

Edwin Moses said he learned early on how a board’s real decisions were often made.
Photo: joann vitelli / atlanta business chronicle

RICE: One of the pain points, to use your language, is this idea of perspective. And I think it oftentimes comes from the whiteness that is in the room at the upper level. So there are tremendous narratives and stories of progress. But a lot of times those narratives and stories are thought of as kind of secondary. Who people are, and their diversity that they occupy, oftentimes is not considered as central. It’s secondary to, “OK, well let’s get the job done,” in terms of the sport, or in terms of making money, in terms of the commerce and things like that. And I think that the more that we put as center who individuals are allows not only for the sport to grow and for the impact, but also for there to be a greater degree of performance from the player.

It’s very important for us to look at how it is that we continue to agitate and to push mindset and this idea of what does it mean to be diverse. And I think that meaning, especially within the culture, the zeitgeist that we’re in now, takes on a particular type of resonance because of the sociocultural political space that we’re occupying.

As soon as we see the next owner of one of these teams, be it LeBron James or any other African American … that could be a game changer in terms of diversity. Do you agree with that in terms of, people of color or women, owning professional sports organizations being a relative point?

RICE: Absolutely. I mean, it’s a step, right? And so we understand that that doesn’t mean we’ve won. It’s kind of like looking at, “OK, well we’ve had a black president of the United States, so here it is, we’ve arrived at the promised land.” That becomes a step forward in progress, a significant one that we can kind of substantively build on.

Are we still at that point where people aren’t looking hard enough or in the right places for diverse talent? And what do we tell recruiters who are getting a much more powerful role in the sports business to find that talent?

SHAW: You have to have recruiters that look like the demographics that they’re trying to touch, because I think when you’re trying to attract talent to an industry that they might not be familiar with, there’s a lot of uncertainty. And so when you’re in an uncertain situation, you find familiarity to find some level of comfort. And so if we only have people from the majority recruiting these positions, there’s already a disconnect, right? And then I also think that we have to go to new and unexpected places. If we know that the sports industry is challenged, if we know that the majority of people that work in professional sports are men and the majority of them are white, and we only poach from sports organizations, well then we’re never going to find diverse talent.

Recent diverse hires across sports

 

NBA

Summer 2018
 Natalie Nakase, player development coach, Los Angeles Clippers. Started as an intern with the Clippers’ video department in 2012.
 Jenny Boucek, assistant coach, Dallas Mavericks. Team’s first female coach. Served as an assistant coach or head coach for almost two decades in the WNBA.
 Kristi Toliver, assistant coach, Washington Wizards. Hired as assistant coach during Summer League and was a full-time assistant during 2018-19 season. Currently playing in her 11th WNBA season and her third with the Washington Mystics.

October 2018
 Chasity Melvin, assistant coach, Charlotte Hornets’ G League team, the Greensboro Swarm. Played 12 seasons in the WNBA.

November 2018
 Sue Bird, basketball operations associate, Denver Nuggets. Has played 16 seasons with the Seattle Storm (out for current season with knee injury).

December 2018
 Kelly Krauskopf, assistant general manager (first woman in such a role in the NBA), Indiana Pacers. Was president and GM of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever for 17 years.

June 2019
 Lindsay Gottlieb, assistant coach, Cleveland Cavaliers. Previously served as the women’s basketball coach at the University of California-Berkeley. First women’s collegiate head coach to be recruited by the NBA, and only the eighth woman to have an assistant coach or player development role in the NBA.
 Swin Cash, vice president of basketball operations and team development, New Orleans Pelicans. Played 15 years in the WNBA.

NHL

August 2018
 Hayley Wickenheiser, assistant director of player development, Toronto Maple Leafs. She is a four-time Olympic gold medalist with the Canadian women’s national team.

NFL

2018
 Phoebe Schecter worked with the Buffalo Bills’ tight ends and assisted the offensive, defensive and special teams quality control coaches as a seasonlong internship.

Spring 2019
 Maral Javadifar, assistant strength and conditioning coach, and Lori Locust, assistant defensive line coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the first team to have two women assistant coaches. Locust attended Temple University and played four years of women’s semi-professional football. Javadifar played basketball at Pace University.

BIG TEN CONFERENCE

Spring 2019
 Kevin Warren, selected as commissioner of the Big Ten Conference. First black commissioner to lead a power five conference. He is currently chief operating officer for the Minnesota Vikings.

PGA Tour

January 2019
 Alex Baldwin, president, Web.com Tour (now Korn Ferry Tour). First female president at the PGA Tour and was previously vice president of marketing partnerships at the tour.

So we’ve got to start looking outside of our industry, and start looking for core competencies that would make a person successful in a role. … We should say, “We’re looking for people that have the ability to be analytic. People that have the ability to do research. People that have demonstrated innovation,” and whatever competencies we’re looking for. And then go to different industries to find those people. So, it’s OK to take somebody out of consulting. Or it’s OK to take someone out of the advertising industry and bring them into sports. Because now we’re going to introduce our industry to some innovative ways of working.

MOSES: There’s a phenomena that I’m sure we’re all familiar with, the meeting before the meeting at board meetings, and these owners meetings, or whatever it may be. There’s generally a meeting of people who are heavyweight decision-makers. And many times people of color are not invited to those meetings, the dinner the night before the actual board meeting starts in the morning, where real decisions are made. Or the agenda is generally set or agreed to move in a certain direction. And many times people of color are not invited to those meetings. I found out about this while I was an Athletes’ Commission member … at the U.S. Olympic Committee, that there was always an agenda that had started a few days before or the night before, and we were not invited.

So, having learned that, then as athletes we started conducting our own meetings, and asking questions and finding out exactly what the agenda was planned on being, and how we were going to intervene. And that’s pretty much how I learned how to do business and work in a board environment by figuring these things out. … I didn’t have any mentors or anyone to explain this to me. I basically just had to learn by seeing, and learn by reacting. But that phenomena is very, very powerful. And when you talk about the owners of the teams and the leagues, and decisions about who’s going to be even able to buy a club, there are decisions at that level that will preclude a black billionaire from buying a club, and it’s happened before. So those are the kinds of systemic problems that exist and are very, very difficult to overcome.

THE ROONEY RULE AND BUILDING A DIVERSE HIRING PIPELINE

Does something like a Rooney Rule work? Would it work on the business side?

SHAW: I don’t like the Rooney Rule, I’m going to be honest with you. I think that the intention behind it was very good. And the NFL at the time, when they implemented the Rooney Rule, was really trying to make a very big statement about including people of color in the recruitment process for head coaching jobs. But when you really think about the framework for the Rooney Rule, it can create a lot of bad feelings, and a lot of bad sentiment surrounding the actual candidates that are put forward. Because you don’t want anyone to feel like they were just meeting a quota, or just there to check a box as a means of an exercise, versus as really trying to determine if this person could fulfill the position in a meaningful way.

And then, if they actually do in fact get hired and get the job, there might be some bad feelings on the other side from folks within the organization that, “This is not the person that I wanted to hire, but it almost feels like affirmative action and I was forced to do so.” I understand what the NFL was trying to do, but I think in execution and in theory, it’s not the best way to include women, people of color, or anybody with a difference into the hiring process. 

WILLIAMS: The idea of being intentional about your recruitment is really important. It’s not about making a mandate, to Nzinga’s point, that can create animosity within an organization. But if you’re intentional about your recruitment and ensuring that your candidate pool is diverse … looking for the best people, and that person interviews and goes through the same process, that allows everybody to have really a good feeling in regards to a person of color or diversity coming into the role. Because I think everybody within an organization starts to feel like this person is capable, qualified and won the job.

RICE: The hope is that you put a Rooney Rule in there so that the culture changes. It’s kind of like making a drop and hopefully the ripple is, “Oh, we got to get better than this. We don’t need a rule to tell us that we need to diversify in the ways that we should already be doing.” So is the spirit still there for the … I mean, does the spirit of the Rooney Rule work? 

MOSES: I think in terms of leadership style. … My leadership style is that I like working with people who are smarter than me. … I’m not intimidated by whether it’s a woman, someone gay, person of color, whoever it is. If they can do the job and they’re smarter than me, I want them on my team. There’s in some cases an aversion to having someone on your team that you may perceive is smarter than you, or more sophisticated, or knows more about strategy, or has better communication skills, or leadership skills. I think that that feeling is out there, and it’s under the radar. But that’s something that people of color have to deal with all the time. You can be too smart, too good to work yourself into an organization, and be someone who will have a long lifespan in an organization or setting.

WILLIAMS: If you were to look at the landscape of the professional teams here in the city, you’ve got three team presidents that I look at and say are progressive in their thinking. … Those leaders were very comfortable and intentional in saying, “We need to diversify.” And so when they started looking at people, they wanted to have a candidate pool that was very, very diverse, and then they made a concerted effort to put women or people of color in leadership positions. But that really starts from the mindset of the leader, to say, “Hey, I am interested and I know that my organization is going to be better if I have diversity of thought at the senior levels.” And I think that this market, and our teams, are a prime example of that.

David Wall Rice said a sports organization is a mirror to the community it serves.
Photo: joann vitelli / atlanta business chronicle

SHAW: You really have to engage talent in a way that is a long relationship, not just recruit a person and fill a position quickly. But sometimes you really have to get to know candidates over the course of a year to understand where they can fit in properly, how they can add value. And a lot of it is not based on what the eye can see.

Do you think the pipeline is getting better? When you’re seeing young people come into an organization or apply, is it more diverse?

WILLIAMS: The leagues are doing a good job of starting to create pipelines. … There is a specific desire from the league, and programs in place for education. So whether that’s understanding analytics, understanding various parts of the business, looking at ways at which the education starts. And then from there, a direct pipeline into organizations. So, there are diverse candidates that are coming in from the MLB diversity pipeline that go into the clubs, and at anywhere from entry level to middle management.

There is definitely an effort in regards to both recruitment and building a pipeline. And MLB is pretty deliberate. They are going out, and they are going to various schools, recruiting, diverse candidates, both women, males, on the field, off the field.

MOSES: I attended the FLAME [Finding Leaders Among Minorities Everywhere] program that the United States Olympic Committee puts on, which is a very good program. I was there, John Carlos was there, quite a few executives, a very diverse crowd. They must have had about 50 young people from around the country — law students, sports business, kinesiology, HBCU kids — it was very, very diverse. And just to talk to them about our experiences, and also the expectations of working in the Olympic sports side. But I was really glad to be there. I’ve been asked to come before, but this was the first year that I made it, and I’m very pleased to see that the thought has been taken, and the program is working very, very well. It’s very, very good.

SHAW: Absolutely, we’re thinking about pipeline. I’m even thinking about emerging demographics that we’re trying to really build relationships with. For instance, the Hispanic community here in Atlanta. Atlanta has a population of 6 million people, 1.3 million are Hispanic. And right now we don’t have a large number of Hispanic fans for the Atlanta Hawks, and for the NBA in general. And so, when we think about talent, we’re thinking about, well, do we have bilingual people in our organization that are able to help us understand and translate marketing messages, or even navigate the building when you come in. … I’m seeing totally different candidates than I was five years ago. Because it’s translating to fan experience, it’s translating to our marketing efforts, and really how we build our business.

Having those positions of ownership, when that is your responsibility, your purview, that can allow an organization to be strategic, correct?

SHAW: 100%. I mean, you have to have a chief diversity and inclusion officer. Because someone has to have thought leadership and expertise, and be able to really engage across the organization. So not being housed out of human resources, but really have deep reach into all facets of the organization in order to get this stuff right. I mean, you wouldn’t have a marketing campaign without a chief marketing officer, right?

But most of the time it was out of HR.

SHAW:It was out of HR, and I think that was the wrong model. Because this is not only a human capital issue. I worked with my sponsorship team. When we were doing the naming-rights deal for State Farm Arena, when we changed from Philips Arena to State Farm Arena, I went on the pitch with the team. I wasn’t sitting there, I was actually engaged in the pitch, and talking about all of the community activities that we do and how we can collaborate effectively with State Farm as a partner. It was a major part of winning the business. I collaborate with marketing oftentimes. I collaborate with our foundation. Diversity officers really, really need to be empowered to work across the business. It’s not an HR function.

Adrian Williams said his role reaches across recruiting, marketing, sponsorship and media.
Photo: joann vitelli / atlanta business chronicle

WILLIAMS: When I got hired, my role was diversity and inclusion. But again, when you think about leadership, our leadership was like, “But you’re going to be housed in marketing. And although you will impact the workforce, and supplier and the team, we also want you to impact our fans as well.” So, being housed intentionally into marketing meant that I was able to work with our marketing department, our sponsorship team, our media team. And through that, working with our naming-rights partner SunTrust on how are they activating their sponsorship. As they’re spending $25 [million] to $30 million, what are the various touchpoints? And we are leading them in regards to how they reach out to the Hispanic and African American communities.

LEADERSHIP’S ROLE IN D&I

How vital is it for ownership to be on board with diversity and inclusion?

SHAW: They can’t be on board with it, they have to drive it. I mean, we’re all on board. The people that work in sports organizations, we get why it’s important because we’re on the front lines. But if the owners are not driving it, then it becomes stale, stagnant, and then we will not make any progress. And so, I think it takes a level of braveness. Even when I think about my organization and me becoming the first chief diversity and inclusion officer, my CEO [Steve Koonin] had to make the decision of whether or not he was going to push and fight for that position to be implemented. 

And so I challenged him. I said, “I think you should implement the role. You’re the CEO. I mean, who’s going to stop you?” And then he came back a couple of days later and said, “You know, I discussed this notion that you put up with my wife. And she makes all the decisions in our house. So she decided that we’re going to hire a chief diversity officer.” And that’s literally how the job came about. And so I ended up applying and becoming the first. But you know, it takes a level of courage from the white men at the top who are in charge, whether owners, or CEOs, or GMs. They’ve got to take a chance not only on CDIOs, but on people that are different in leadership roles.

WILLIAMS: My job’s the only one that exists in Major League Baseball. So, a little bit different story, but Derek [Schiller, Braves president of business] came to me and said, “Are you willing to be a change agent within our organization? Because our business is changing, we’re changing location, and so we need to think about our business differently. And in order for this job to work, you have to be willing to fight some battles. You have to be willing to be that change.” And so I think, having us together, that’s important. And I go back to this city, this city really driving diversity across sport.

RICE: I’m curious about how that becomes important, being that this is the cradle of the civil rights movement, looking at social justice and social impact. Being able to have folks who are in this space, who perhaps are more comfortable. I’m hesitant to say take a chance — I understand what’s meant there — but who are comfortable being a part of the community in that very intentional way. Not only having people around who are able to be sounding boards, but folks who are able to give direction and speak truth to power. That becomes so very important, and perhaps something that’s unique here to where we can be leaders within the sport industry and business.

INCLUSION IN THE EQUATION

The second half of that diversity and inclusion discussion — the inclusion part — seems like a lot of times that gets either lost or isn’t executed as well as getting people in the door. Once they’re in the door, how do you get their voices heard? 

SHAW: You have to impact your corporate culture, and how you receive different types of people. That’s what inclusion is about. It’s really about how are they received and how are they able to show up as their authentic selves without fear of retaliation, or fear that they are going to be mistreated if they reveal the parts of themselves that are different from the main culture? And something that we’ve been doing at the Hawks, which has been wildly successful in my opinion, is curating a series called Courageous Conversations that happens monthly. And we bring thought leaders from outside of our industry in to tackle tough topics. Like race, privilege, sexual violence — goodness, we’ve had everything from physical disability, the list goes on.

Two years after starting Courageous Conversations, I’ve seen the culture shift. And that’s inclusion, that’s what it looks like. It’s not a formula. Diversity to me is a formula. Diversity means difference, it means tangible things that we can see that are unique. And so I can check boxes and count numbers and say, “I’ve got my metrics all together.” And that’s 30% of the D&I equation. But 70% is, are these people going to stick around? Do they feel good in here? Are they reaching their maximum potential? Are they being allowed to add value in a way that is tangible to the business? That’s the inclusion part that we’ve got to get right.

RICE: You’re a mirror, in many respects, to the community that you’re servicing and/or that you’re working with. So the idea is, and I love, you know, how is it that people can show up and be their authentic selves? Because the thing that I’m very much interested in is, where is their authentic engagement? … How is it that you can be an authentic contributor to the community? And what we’re talking about in terms of levels here, I know that there’s a bottom line. You know, we’re talking about business. How is it that we’re going to get a stronger yield in terms of what it is that we’re putting out there as a product?

You’re going to get a stronger yield in my estimation, if you’re really connected to the communities that you say that you’re attached to. So, the more voices that you have from said communities, the more diverse it is, the more that you’re able to be inclusive and really again, represent that mirror that you say that you are representing.

WILLIAMS: You know it’s interesting, because one of the things that we’ve tried to do at the Braves is, we start talking about our Hispanic outreach. One of the reasons why we are really intentional to Hispanic outreach is 30% of our players on the field are Latino. … We’ve got to build connection to our key players, but also too, as we think about how we’re building new fans, we are thinking about how are we truly authentic? And that is the key for us in everything that we do on the Los Bravos platform, is really ensuring that we: A) are mirroring what our community looks like; and B) the voice that we’re using connects to our community.

Our fan base, whether it’s international or domestic, like, “I now have a place to come. When I come to SunTrust Park, I feel like I am welcomed here.” And as we have not only our Spanish interpreter, but a full Hispanic content team on social and digital, we are now able to capture all of those experiences. So when somebody walks in, you have somebody from guest services that’s able to speak to you in your language if you need to, you have somebody on the field. And then in the social and digital space, we also are connecting with you, and we’re going to show you and highlight you at the stadium. All because we want you to feel like you’re welcome when you come into our ballpark. 

And that’s the same for LGBTQ, African American, women, that’s what we’re trying to do to make sure, authentically, we are connecting with them so that they feel like they are part of our organization and our fan base.

A few years ago sports wasn’t seen as the most welcoming environment. Do you agree?

SHAW: I see two instances, at least at the Atlanta Hawks organization, where fans did not feel welcome when I first got here, and [it’s] starting to shift. The first instance is with the LGBTQ community, and the second instance is with the community that has sensory needs, like autism and PTSD. You know, when I started my job, there were no professional sports teams in Atlanta marching in Pride. The Pride parade has been going on for 47 years now. And it was just mind-boggling, because there are so many different sports properties in the Atlanta market. … And so, for the sports community to not engage or at least show allyship, seemed very strange to me. And especially because Atlanta has the third largest population of out people second to New York and San Francisco. And so, I will say that we began to become very intentional about that community. 

The sensory population, that’s another diverse community. There are about 20% of families, at least in the Atlanta market, that have some type of sensory need, whether it’s a child with autism, or a family member who served in the war who now has PTSD. And these are certainly challenges. Because a sports environment is very loud, it’s very sensory overload. I mean, even for a person that doesn’t have those experiences, it can be a lot. And so, a lot of the feedback that we’ve received is, it’s hard to bring our entire family to a game because there’s not a room that can accommodate these needs. And so we just partnered with an organization, Culture City, about a year and a half ago. We’re the second NBA team to build a sensory inclusion room within our arena which allows families to say, “The kids don’t have to be separated,” or, “Johnny and Billy don’t have to stay at home because Susie has this need. Everybody’s coming. We’re all going to sit in this room that can accommodate us. We can watch the game and still have a good night out.”

So we have to think about inclusion beyond, again, those visual things, like the race, and the gender, and we have to start thinking a lot deeper about what does inclusion mean. And are we drawing people into our industry in a way where they feel like it’s authentic?

First Look podcast, with highlights from the discussion beginning at the 19:50 mark:

What’s the message that you would like to leave in terms of inclusive leadership and building a diverse environment?

RICE: I would go back to the beginning and say it’s about community. Diversity and inclusion is about community. It’s about how it is that you value the place in which you live and work. And how important is that to you? It should be the cornerstone. And if it’s not, then you’re doing something wrong.

SHAW: Diversity and inclusion is about courage and empathy. You have to be courageous enough to have conversations that help bring a level of understanding that you may not have started with. And you have to be empathetic and understand that people are struggling, people are going through situations in their everyday lives, and are hurting. And so we have to figure out how to help people be happy. Sports brings people together. It’s the one industry that can galvanize a crowd and unify people across disciplines, across demographics. Let’s use that same energy within our organizations to make our industry better.

MOSES: I work for an organization, and our mantra is sports has a power to change the world. And when I was at Pepperdine getting my MBA, if I look back now, many, many years later, there were two academic choices that I made in my curriculum that really have paid off. No. 1 would be psychology of organizations, how power is structured, power, discipline, all the elements, and the psychology of how people work. And the second one that was important to me is the theory of organization, organizational development. How organizations work, how they’re put together, how these systems work together.

Those two have been two of the most important academic lessons that I’ve learned. You can learn finance, you can learn statistics, you can learn accounting, things like that. But in an organization, in terms of being in a diverse organization, it’s going to be about people. How people think, making people feel comfortable and treating people fairly.

WILLIAMS: Being open-minded and having a willingness to make change. But also, as you have that willingness to make change, that might disrupt your base, it might disrupt your organization. But know that that change, and being inclusive, can make your organization better.