“Create the things you wish existed.” -unknown
This is a popular quote many visionaries and doers live by. Too often, people have ideas that are never acted upon only to look back and live with regrets. Well, the founder and visionary behind the inaugural Women In Sports Forum, Ashley Baker, deserves credit for taking action toward creating change in an industry that still struggles to embrace diversity.
One week ago, one hundred female students and professionals gathered at The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit Hotel to engage in a full day of sharing, educating, and empowerment. The theme “The Room Becomes Better When You Walk In” set the tone for the day. It delivered a message to a diverse group of female attendees, that you are enough. Despite existing in a world and industry in which women are underrepresented, Baker, who is completing her sports management doctorate at the University of Georgia and is the assistant athletic director at Xavier University in New Orleans, explained to Crains Detroit Business, “that women in sports must remember that their knowledge and experience help improve the sports industry, whether as a researcher, athletic director or journalist.”
While numerous sports franchises and organizations are hosting women sports conferences annually, they’re often inaccessible to the people who are most in need. Boasting entry fees of $500 or more implies one must be of a certain privilege or level of success to attend. Baker, a Pontiac, Michigan native, was determined to deliver something different. Targeting the youth of Detroit, specifically high school students, was necessary. Baker believed if she acquired access to something similar as a teen, her journey would’ve been different, not necessarily better, but definitely more intentional. So, she moved forward with pursuing her vision and enlisted the support of nearly 20 successful women in the sports industry who have made a difference in her life. From Shirelle Jackson, the director of student-athlete development at the University of Miami to Shamari Hamlet, athletics coordinator of Detroit PAL to Mary Ellen Gillespie, director of athletics at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, to Corrine Foster, sports massage therapist, to name a few.
Detroit’s very own and ESPN “His & Hers” co-host Jemele Hill delivered a rousing lunch keynote. She reflected on her journey and shared an inspirational message on her refusal to use her underprivileged upbringing as an excuse to fail. Instead, she was driven to achieve her childhood dream of sports journalism and worked diligently to turn everything that should’ve been working against her into positives. And, Sylvia Crawford, mother to former NBA athletes Jordan and Joe Crawford and founder of Going Pro, a professional sports management company, shed light on the shady recruitment process and why she was inspired to start her business.
Each women who touched the stage, including myself, shared a similar message: embrace all that is you and walk in your truth. Reject conformity and do what you do so well that the industry’s only choice is to accept you as you are.
As someone who’s attended many of these events before, I was most proud to see the number of women of color who were not only participating in the conversations, but also leading them. Too often conferences and panel discussions include one token women of color (*raises hand*) and the conversations remain very surface. If the industry aspires to achieve real diversity and inclusion, change agents must populate these spaces with women who can contribute their various experiences (good and bad) in a deep, honest, and meaningful way. Gratefully, Baker was committed to pushing this agenda forward and invited fearless women who felt similarly.
Following a thoughtful day of discussions which included but weren’t limited to work/life balance, mentorship, diversity in the workplace, and sports entrepreneurship, high school students were treated to a private one-on-one breakout session with Hill. Everyone else networked.
Overall, it was a day well spent and I look forward to next year because yes, there will be a next year. Stay tuned!
Enjoy the pics!
For more info on the Women in Sports Forum visit womeninsportsforum.com.