Women sports execs share powerful leadership tips
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Sports Business students at Grand Canyon University hear regularly from a diverse lineup of guest speakers who don’t sugarcoat the realities of the industry.
Friday, they were exposed to a particularly harsh reality – the lack of women in supervisory roles – by four role models who live in the Valley but are effecting change far beyond Arizona.
That influence starts at GCU, where Jamie Boggs is Interim Vice President of Athletics. She was joined on the powerhouse “Women Leaders in Sports” panel by:
- Kate Foley, Director of Client Management for Octagon, a leading sports and entertainment marketing agency
- Julie Giese, President of Phoenix Raceway in Avondale
- Ali Mitchell, Director of Basketball Administration and Development for the Phoenix Suns
During the one-hour discussion, moderated by GCU student Diana Johnson, they shared their thoughts about work-life balance, issues that have challenged their advancement, how men should talk to women in the industry, and their advice for young people, especially what makes a resume or interview stand out.
And they still had a lot to say afterward. Mitchell believes it all boils down to this:
“How much power do we have? Now we have these titles, but do we really have a say?”
She considers herself lucky – she said she has been treated well in her role with the Suns but added, “What you bring to the table is important.”
Inappropriate is inappropriate
Even though the number of women in the industry continues to increase, the panelists agreed that the number of true decision-makers still lags and the stories of demeaning comments still proliferate.
They told the students in the Colangelo College of Business lecture hall, many of them women, tales of being asked by male executives, “Whose girlfriend are you?” or being told to run an errand. More importantly, they explained what they do to educate men that such behavior is unacceptable.
“You’re speaking to a position, not a gender,” Foley said during the panel discussion.
Afterward, she had a lot more to say:
“If someone doesn’t know that they’re speaking inappropriately and it’s just brushed off as, ‘Oh, that’s just him,’ or ‘He didn’t mean it,’ whatever, you have to command the respect for yourself. The only way you can effect change on someone is if you bring it to their attention – proactively, appropriately, respectfully.
“In the world we’re asking people to be more aware; I think it falls on them as an individual to make the change themselves. I think the younger men in the industry and the younger men executives that are empowering women and looking at them as equals and not as someone who just is around – that is causing change from above.
“I said this in a class the other week: You have to be able to communicate with a person the way they need to be communicated with – not the way you communicate, but the way they’re going to respond and see your communication. Because otherwise they’re not hearing you, they’re not understanding you, they’re not feeling empowered. You want them to understand and feel and effect the change, but you have to do that through them, not through yourself.”
Mitchell, who travels with the Suns and works directly with players, thinks men’s attitudes toward women in the industry are evolving, especially if the men are younger. But full acceptance of equality still will take time.
“I think they understand they have to get it but not necessarily that they want to get it,” she said. “They realize there are rules, like, ‘This is what society wants me to do, so I can’t say certain things anymore, I can’t act a certain way anymore.’”
Said Foley, “I don’t think it’s ever going to change. I’m not looking for it to change. I’m just looking for the conversation to continue. And I think the more we create a conversation and we create awareness, we’re effecting the change for the younger generation because that’s where the change is going to come. It’s not going to come in my lifetime.”
What NOT to say in interview
But the good news is that more women in positions of authority means more women doing the hiring, which figures to have a snowball effect on the industry. The panelists had some very important things to say about what any student, male or female, should do to get a sports business job.
It started with what not to say in an interview.
“If you say, ‘I love the NBA’ in the first 14 seconds, I’m done with you,” Foley said.
Loving the sport is a given, and being able to recite the sport’s history is not required, either. “I don’t have the best basketball knowledge,” she said, “but I’m probably the best problem-solver on my team.”
She’s looking for “someone who brings something to the table that I don’t.”
Giese said it’s all about being prepared. “Have a two-minute elevator speech,” she said. “What’s your vision? And be prepared to work hard. I can teach other things, but I can’t teach hard work.”
Mitchell told the students, “Know the room before you reach out to people,” and Boggs urged them to keep emails short and assertive and said she’s looking for the four C’s: collaboration, creative solutions, continuous improvement and Christian leadership (which translates to humility, service and sacrifice).
Boggs accented her view of Christian leadership when she said being viewed as an industry leader is “really humbling,” and she was heartened by the gender mix among the students.
“To see so many people in here, both male and female, it just tells you how far along we are in the industry,” she said, adding that she feels privileged “just to be able to serve for GCU because GCU has done so much for me.
“The industry has changed so much. We’ve had so many women before us who have helped us forge through. That’s what we want to do – we want to pay it forward. We want to be there for young people and teach them and guide as much as we can.”
And at least young women finally have more role models. Dr. Mark Clifford, Assistant Dean and Director, Sports Business, for CCOB, saw that as an overriding lesson of the panel discussion.
“We have some really powerful women in the industry here in our backyard,” he said.
That’s a reality that has been long overdue.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].