Five takeaways from the eighth annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit

I am one of the few, the proud, women in the sports industry. I LOVE this industry; however, I regularly find myself in professional settings where I am the only woman in the room, or there are just a handful of women among the many, many men. Until this October, at the espnW Summit, I had never before attended a work event solely focused on women + sports.

Prior to the Summit, I agreed to host Executive Office Hours, meeting with three attendees one-on-one. I received my personalized agenda and the list of attendees I would be meeting with, one man and two women. When I arrived, I experienced a moment of culture shock. The sight of hundreds of women in the room was jarring. These women are leaders in their organization and share a passion for getting and keeping women in sport (there were also a handful of men in attendance)!

For the last eight years, espnW has hosted a summit with two action-packed days in early October, intended to create a catalyst for change focusing on women and sports. The event is intentionally designed to inspire, inform, and encourage attendees to take action through an A-list group of panel speakers, performances, breakout sessions, executive office hours and networking. The list included: Grammy winner Sheryl Crow, Uber’s Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John; Olympic gold medalist Julie Foudy; NFL coach, Dr. Jenn Welter; WWE’s Stephanie McMahon; Los Angeles Lakers President Jeanie Buss; and WNBA All-Star Sue Bird, just to name a few. Since espnW keeps their annual Summit capped at a couple hundred attendees, I want to share with you some of the most impactful moments.

Let me walk you through my 5 takeaways:

1. The Door is Heavy

The Chief Brand Officer for Uber is the one and only Bozoma Saint John, best described as energetic, stylish, and competitive. There are few women of color in the C-suite in Silicon Valley, she talked about what that feels like to be a trailblazer; “the weight of making sure that you don’t do anything wrong so that others can follow you. Holding the door open, and it is heavy. It is heavy. It’s heavy because it’s a burden. It’s heavy because of the expectation. It’s heavy because you can’t slip. You can never let the door slip. And if you do, it will shut tight. And then you’ll be on the outside, and everyone else will be on the inside.”

2. Perfection is the enemy…

New York Times best-selling author, Kate Fagan, discussed how girls are dropping out of sports in their early high school years in record numbers. Many are citing that it’s just not fun anymore because it’s become about making an elite club team or trying to get a scholarship; rather than enjoying being part of something bigger than yourself as a member of a team or staying healthy through daily activity. If you’re interested in how we can keep her in the game, check out what Gatorade is up to.

3. Look out Steph and Klay

The Splash Sisters are a San Diego based basketball team comprised of women in their 80s and 90s. They went viral after espnW posted a video about the group, gathering 13 million views and inspiring countless people. Their ability to play is meaningful, as most of the Sisters didn’t have the opportunity to play sports when they were adolescents, Title IX didn’t exist then.

4. This is what resilience looks like

Some incredible women spoke about the obstacles they’ve overcome, including Rebekah Gregory, who lost a leg in the Boston Marathon Bombing and Dr. Jen Welter, the NFL’s first full-time female coach. She made headlines in July 2015 when the Arizona Cardinals brought her on to coach linebackers. Dr. Welter has a Ph.D in Psychology, spoke about her new book, Play Big: Lessons in Being Limitless from the First Woman to Coach in the NFL. It’s emphasizes taking risks, how empathy plays a role in her coaching style and the importance of “living your life for your passion and not for a paycheck.”

5. Community is powerful

During my Executive Office Hours, I met with three attendees one-on-one. The purpose of the session was for them to share their experiences and for me to offer actionable feedback or advice, but generally just to make meaningful connections. espnW has created a community through their media and this annual summit, where women who share a passion for sport can connect, share their stories, learn from one another and motivate one another, so that someday, it will no longer be newsworthy when the NFL hires a female coach or a woman wins the Gold Glove.

We still have work to do, but events like the espnW Summit are crucial to developing the next female leaders in sport. The Summit provides a platform for frank conversations about women in leadership, breaking barriers in sports media, sexual assault, athlete activism, and driving social change. As Laura Gentile, the Founder of espnW said, “With the sports world, we still feel like we’re building a network of women. Women haven’t always been…the ones making all the decisions so we’re actually creating working relationships. It’s (the espnW Summit) developing into a sort of business network for women in sport that just didn’t exist before.”

About Kelly Becker

Becker lives at the crossroads of sports and innovation. She has collaborated with entrepreneurs who have appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank and on Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Recently, she earned the Sports and Fitness Industry Future Leader award. Kelly is an NCAA National Champion field hockey player and is a passionate advocate for women in sport.

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