Advice to Females Seeking Careers in Sports

Yesterday I was invited to be part of a panel for the inaugural Minnesota Lynx Girls and Women in Sport Career Day (kudos to Carly Knox and her Lynx colleagues for putting on this event!)

Myself and 5 other women in the Twin Cities area spoke about our experiences, career pathway, advice for being successful in a male dominated profession and  “a-ha!” moments in our careers. On the panel with me: Cheryl Reeve, Head coach MN Lynx; Laura Day; VP of Business Development for the Twins; Britt Carlson, Director of Premium Seating at Minnesota Timberwolves & Target Center; Rachel Blount, StarTribune Sports Columnist; and rookie Lynx player Monica Wright.

I didn’t know what to expect but I learned a great deal from these accomplished women! There were many common themes, which I found fascinating because we wrote our comments independently. Here are some take homes and some reflections I’ve had since last night:

1. NETWORK!!! Get your foot in the door any way you can, and when you get the opportunity make the most of it. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so be ready and remember you are always interviewing for a job. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Seek out mentors and surround yourself with good people. I loved when Monica Wright told the audience, “Be loud and confident, and project yourself well”…which she was modeling!

2. Follow your passion. Don’t let anyone or anything stand in the way of your passion and goals. One young woman in the audience asked Coach Reeve if she thought more women would begin to coach men. I wanted to tell this young woman that statistically speaking her chances were very low, but on second thought…good for her! We need more females thinking coaching males is a viable career pathway and to strive to make inroads. If a young man had asked about coaching women, no one would of batted an eyelash. You Go Girl!….coach those males, and pursue your passion. Rachel Blount told a story about how a college football coach once told her to “go back to baking biscuits” rather than try to interview one of his players. She told me that not once in her 25 years as a sport reporter did she think of not doing what she loved, “I was born to do this!” she claimed emphatically….and I agree!

What was really interesting to me is that we were all asked to talk about our experiences in a male dominated profession. Only myself and Rachel Blount talked explicitly about sexism and how females are statistically the token minority in all sports careers. The other women said they’d never experienced sexism or any male-created obstacles–or perhaps didn’t want to talk about it if they had. I was really surprised by their admissions especially because I had I just ordered two books I cannot wait to read on this subject–Sexism in America: Alive, Well and Ruining Our Future (Berg, 2009), and Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done (Douglas, 2010). I think both books will help me reflect on these women’s claims of a lack of experienced sexism. I came upon these books when I found a new blog this week titled Equality Myth: Young Women, Sexism, and the Workplace which got me thinking about how these concepts apply to my work with female coaches.

One young woman asked the panel why none of us mentioned children and how having kids influenced our careers. All of us looked at each other and a silent awkward pause ensued….none of us had children! Was it coincidental that all 5 women (I’ll exclude Monica Wright, because she isn’t in the same place in her career as the rest of us) were successful yet had no children? I immediately had a sick feeling. What did this mean? What message did it send to the young women in the audience who wanted both a career and children?

I quickly thought of Arlie Hochschild’s work on “the second shift”, which still unfortunately still holds true for a majority of women. The second shift for working women, is the idea a “second shift” or job starts when she comes home and is largely responsible for domestic and child-rearing duties. From the work I’ve done with female coaches, many of them discuss how coaching is only possible for them because their husbands also coach and that is “just what our family does”. My message to the audience was–if you want to have a family and career (which is possible!), be sure to choose a partner that will be supportive of your passion  and is willing to be equally involved in child care and domestic duties. One problem in this model is that on average women still make 77 cents to every $1 made by men, so having 2 working parents isn’t always the best financial choice if the cost of child care, outweighs the second income (here is fact sheet written by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research on the gender pay gap). So which income goes? The one who earns the least…which is usually the female (if the couple is male-female).

I have a lot more thinking to do about these topics and what it means for my career, my research and teaching, and for the next generation of young women. The event was very empowering and energizing, but the reflections I’ve had since the event have been admittedly depressing. I like action items that lead to social change, but when the actions required are tackling gender stereotypes, male power, and work/family gender roles…it seems daunting! But I will take my own advice and not let anything get in the way of pursuing my passion, which is trying to make a difference in the lives of females in and through sport.

What are your thoughts?

17 Replies to “Advice to Females Seeking Careers in Sports”

  1. Thank you so much for speaking at the event and all your post-event insight. I left with many of the same feelings, but at the same time felt revitalized by all the incredible girls and women we had in the same room! We’ve come a long way, but still have so far to go. Sometimes we need to remind eachother of that and also, how it can only be accomplished together.


  2. Great topic, and one that I’ve been discussing with friends and colleagues lately. I have 2 things to contribute…I travel and speak for a living and I’m often asked how I do it when I have a daughter (and I get the feeling they’re making a judgement about my parenting abilities and priorities). How many men get asked the same question? Secondly, I travel enough to consistently get bumped up to first class and it’s always male dominated – I’m lucky if there are 1-2 other women besides myself. There are many reasons why the women are missing – getting paid less, fewer opportunities for promotion, choosing not to travel, working the “second shift”, personal choice, etc… Do I ever wonder if my career negatively affects my family? All the time. Having a career and children is a balancing act, but I’ve realized following my passion in my career makes me a happier, fulfilled person, which in turn makes me a better mother.


  3. This sounds like such a great event! Thanks for your insights. I cover football for my (D-1) college newspaper, and a freshman sportswriter told me a couple weeks ago that his friends thought it was weird that we have a girl covering such a major sport! I’ve never had any real problems because of my gender, though, and even have an internship this summer. But I do worry about what I’ll do when I want to start a family (because I definitely want kids). My current plan is to cross that bridge when I come to it 🙂


  4. I stumbled onto this link through the women’s basketball blog. I have been involved in sports my entire life and sexism has always been an issue. I was in high school when Title IX came along. I did not reap the benefits in high school nor in college. Now all these years later when it seems we have made so much progress I pick up the sports page and wonder if I am back in 1975 again. I find it interesting that the women on the panel with you have never experienced sexism–maybe not the overt kind but every female athlete everyday experiences sexism just in newspapers alone. Not to mention ESPN, CBS Sports etc. I would be interested in knowing their definition of sexism. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    1. Melissa,
      Thanks for your comment. I think many do not fully grasp what sexism is and its many forms…benevolent, overt, occupational, stereotypes etc. (and I’m NOT saying this is necessarily true of the women on the panel, but of people in general). I think there is an assumed meaning we all take for granted and it is associated with something we don’t want to claim or talk about because we (as women) might be labeled as a “feminist” which has a whole other set of stereotypes. defines it as: SEXISM –noun
      1.attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.
      2.discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex, as in restricted job opportunities; esp., such discrimination directed against women.

      the Cultural Dictionary defines it as:
      The belief that one sex (usually the male) is naturally superior to the other and should dominate most important areas of political, economic, and social life. Sexist discrimination in the United States in the past has denied opportunities to women in many spheres of activity. Many allege that it still does. (See also affirmative action, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, glass ceiling, and National Organization for Women.)

      thanks for posting. -nml


  5. Interested in the books you have just ordered…wanted to mention a book I am currently reading called Misogyny by Jack Holland….a really well written book that reviews the historical role of women. It goes back to the 8th century BC and moves through to the present. I have learned about incredible women I never read about in history class. Holland did a great job! Unfortunately it made me realize that we have not come as far as we think we have…..


  6. Hello Nicole, I have found your work very interesting, I coach triathlon (men and female) at age group and elite level. Triathlon is a sport where gender equity has been actively sought, There is equity in administrator jobs and athletes but work with coaches has so far been neglected, though not on purpose, there has been also some neglect towards male coaches too.
    I am currently studying a masters degree on Sports Science and gender equity is one of the subjects covered, I am preparing a class paper on challenges female elite coaches face. This is how I got to your webpage.
    I am also married and have 2 boys, so yes, it is possible if your spouse/partner supports you, is involved and shares education and house chores.
    At this moment I am the only female national team triathlon coach in my country (Mexico) so as you know there is still a long road ahead.
    I am very interested in the research you have published.
    thank you for your interest.


  7. I was honored to be on the panel, especially considering the diverse and impressive group of women that were on it with me.

    I wanted to respond to the comment that it was surprising that I hadn’t experienced gender discrimination or that perhaps I was afraid to admit it. I have built my entire career on the business side of sports in both the NFL and NBA. I have worked for and with some incredible people and due to my position in sales, have created relationships with the most prominent members of the business community. The recurring theme for me has always been that hard work pays off. I’ve overcome plenty of obstacles during my 15 year sports career (aging stadiums/arenas, team performances, ownership changes, poor economy, negative publicity, perception of the teams and our players, etc) that have posed some incredible challenges. Those are the challenges that I seem to thrive on, though. After hearing some of the stories from my fellow panelists, I feel lucky to say that overcoming gender hurdles hasn’t been a part of my story.

    My reason for wanting to respond is to reiterate the message that not every female is going to hit a glass ceiling and hopefully in 2010 that is something we can celebrate instead of question. I’m beyond grateful to the women before me and beside me who paved the way and continue to pave the way for me to be treated as an equal in the business world. I’m also grateful to the men who I have worked for whose expectations of me have been the same as that of their male staff, who have helped me to achieve my goals and who have been open enough with information to teach me what I need to know to take the next steps in my career.

    I do acknowledge that there are still universal inequalities to overcome, just as there are with race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Hopefully more and more, the best people for the job continue to find the success they deserve and I will be forever committed to helping the younger generation of women climb that ladder…


  8. Britt,
    Thanks for responding and elaborating for readers who weren’t there at the panel to hear your complete story and great messages. I completely agree we should celebrate the accomplishments of women who have made it in sport careers, especially in professional sports that is statistically dominated by males! Kudos to you and bigger kudos to the men (and women!) in the organizations you’ve worked with and for that have obviously helped you thrive and succeed. I think your story is rare and one that we should celebrate! Thanks for weighing in and I look forward to working with you in the future to help the young women in our community survive, thrive and succeed. -nml


  9. Thanks for your very interesting and important piece. I also appreciate you mentioning my book Sexism in America. I wrote it as a wake-up call with the hope that young women like you, Nicole, and all the others who are reading and commenting on your blog would begin to discuss the issues of discrimination women are daily facing in their lives. And you are!

    While pundits like to cite the few prominent high profile women as a sign that we are a post-feminist society, those of us who work with different groups of women or see our daughters treated as second class citizens know differently. And you are so right: discrimination comes in many forms, subtle, insidious and hard to discern. But we can all imagine a more equitable society for our sons( who also lose out when women are discriminated against) and daughters than the one we are living in. Now we have to make it happen. Thank you for all you’re doing.


    1. Barbara,
      Thanks for your work, your post and for your additional insights. I’m constantly shocked that young women and my peers do not see the persistent sexism that colors their lives. -nml


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