Women’s History Month 2019 Week 1: Women in Sports Business
March is Women’s History Month and we will highlight women in sports all month. Essence Magazine recently did a feature on 8 Black women and their experiences working in sports. The article consisted of some of the challenges and misconceptions that these women face working for the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB and their advice for women aspiring to follow in their footsteps. Below are excerpts from their interviews with Essence Magazine.
Traci Otey Blunt is the SVP of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs at the NFL where she is responsible for key strategic areas within the league including current affairs, business operations, government affairs, NFL Media, player health and safety and social responsibility. When asked about what advice she would give to other women aspiring for a senior role within a sports organization she responded with “[regarding mentorship] These relationships develop organically, and it doesn’t have to be with somebody that looks like you. There’s mentorship, and then there’s that champion, your sponsor who’s in the room when you’re not and knows enough about you that they can talk about you.”
Kim Davis is the Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth & Legislative Affairs at the NHL where she has the responsibility of growing the game of hockey through the engagement of new and underrepresented audiences, using the sport as a vehicle to help build strong communities through youth development and building community relationships through partnerships with external constituents, including governments across North America. When asked about the challenges or misconceptions that she has faced as a Black woman in sports, she said “[T]he biggest challenge, in my opinion, is always ensuring that you aren’t put in a position of ‘owning’ the organization’s responsibility for [diversity and inclusion] just because you are Black or female etc. For me, the biggest challenge in my new role with the NHL is learning the nuances of the sport so that I’m viewed as a credible leader by the management team and ownership groups.”
Nzinga Shaw is the Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer & SVP of the Atlanta Hawks [NBA] & State Farm Arena; she is the first person to hold the Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer [CDIO] position in the NBA and for all 122 North American professional sports teams. When asked about what advice she would give to other women aspiring for a senior role within a sports organization she said “Don’t get too high on the highs, and don’t get too low on the lows. Try to remain steady and even-tempered through all the peaks and valleys is a recipe for success.”
Ellen Hill Zeringue is the Vice President of Marketing with Detroit Tigers at the MLB where she is in her 20th season with the Tigers overseeing all marketing, social media, digital, promotions, and special events. When asked what advice do you have as a Black woman working in a male-dominated industry she stated “We as women of color who may be charting new territories must be prepared to celebrate our accomplishments, do the work, except that we have been well educated and trained for our various positions and understand our role in creating new opportunities for those that follow in our footsteps. We must also remember to pay tribute to women like Minnie Forbes, who owned the Detroit Stars Negro Leagues Baseball team from 1956-1958 and Mamie ‘Peanut’ Johnson who was the first female pitcher to play in the Negro Leagues. These women, and many others like them, have blazed a trail for all women of color who aspire to work in sports.”
Leslie Isler is a Professional Athletes Foundation Associate for the NFLPA where she helps former NFL players as they transition from their professional football careers by helping them navigate through grants and resources provided by the organization and Media Relations for the Washington Capitals at the NHL where she works with the Game Day staff during home games and other NHL events such as the Winter Classic and Stadium Series. When asked what advice do you have as a Black woman working in a male-dominated industry she responded “[B]e your professional self. Our presence and opinions are valuable to organizations, always remember that. Seek out mentors from different demographics to broaden your perspective on your career goals. And be open to intermingling with colleagues outside of the office, especially at company events, it is a great way to network.”
Zenab Keita is a Partnership Development Manager for the Golden State Warriors at the NBA where she is responsible for activating, retaining and growing a portfolio of partnership agreements between sponsors and the Warriors. When asked about the challenges or misconceptions that she has faced as a Black woman in sports, she said “Due to generalizations created by reality TV or the media in general about the tie between Black women and athletes and sports, I sometimes feel a pressure to expand upon the roles Black women play when it comes to being involved with sports. I sometimes feel a need to represent Black women in those business settings—to demonstrate our intelligence, to display how nuanced we can be in sports business, and more generally, to provide examples of how we, too, can highly contribute in corporate America.”
Alexandria Holt is a Fan Services Executive at the Atlanta Falcons for the NFL where she manages a segmented group of Falcons season ticket members accounts with year around engagement. When asked about what advice she would give to other women aspiring for a senior role within a sports organization she stated “There is the saying in the Black community that you must work twice as hard to be considered as good as your counterparts. This is true, but in a male-dominated industry like the NFL, being both Black and a woman, the need to prove my worth is even greater.”
Demeka Fields is the Associate Counsel for the Minnesota Vikings at the NFL where she is responsible for drafting a myriad of contracts, including sponsorships, corporate partnerships, special events, and television and media deals. When asked about the challenges or misconceptions that she has faced as a Black woman in sports, she responded ““With the lack of diversity in front offices and the legal profession, being a Black woman attorney in the NFL is rare.To date, there are only a handful of Black female attorneys working for NFL teams…Black women are too powerful to be put inside of a box, and I hope that when people see me in meetings or work with me while negotiating a contract, their perception of Black women is expanded.”
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