Vanderbilt University hosted a special roundtable featuring influential women in collegiate and professional athletics on Sunday, Oct. 23. Five established and highly successful women administrators spoke of their career experiences and challenges during a discussion entitled Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Women in Athletic Leadership.
The forum was hosted by Vanderbilt’s Department of Athletics to stimulate thought and progress in the promotion of additional diversity in the athletic workplace. Current student- athletes from area colleges dotted the audience composed primarily of local coaches and administrators and members of the general public.
The panel was composed of Tiffany Daniels, Associate Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference; Beth DeBauche, Commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference; Michelle Kennedy, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Financial Officer of the Nashville Predators; Candice Lee, Deputy Athletic Director at Vanderbilt University; and Teresa Phillips, Director of Athletics at Tennessee State University.
The administrators were initially asked a variety of questions by moderator Carolyn Peck, currently associate coach on Vanderbilt’s women’s basketball staff. Peck has been a national championship head coach, a WNBA head coach, an ESPN announcer, among other jobs, after graduating from Vanderbilt as a basketball student- athlete. Peck asked each woman a question specific to her individual background, then asked all of them more general questions as a group, and later in the program, the floor was opened to questions from the audience.
Among the many topics covered were their thoughts on being immersed in a male-dominated enterprise, how to increase female participation in coaching and administration and the steps necessary to improve and/ or change the current culture.
This panel of strong leaders expressed a generally optimistic and encouraging message, seemingly agreeing that while much work is left to be done to promote more opportunity for women, progress is being made on a number of fronts.
Several panelists were asked, for example, how they felt working in a culture that up to the relatively recent past was almost exclusively a men’s only club. They cited hard work, mastery of basic skill sets, attention to detail and a firm belief in their own abilities as keys to their success.
“I’ve never felt oppressed, never felt held back because I am a woman,” Kennedy said.
Commissioner DeBauche urged women not to assume that quality positions will automatically go to male candidates and to “get themselves in the mix” after confessing that it took her two inquiries from college presidents seeking commissioner candidates while she was at the NCAA that eventually went to women to realize she could become one herself.
Daniels, a former University of Georgia student-athlete, said raising a generation of confident young women is vital. She intentionally named her daughters Tyler and Peyton so that readers of resumes wouldn’t be initially biased.
“I never felt there was anything I couldn’t do,” Daniels said. “I have a mindset that you are not going to out-work me and I want my two young daughters to believe there isn’t anything they can’t do either.”
Lee addressed the question of a lack of women in the college coaching ranks, citing a number of challenges including a “pipeline issue” of qualified candidates and misconceptions some women have regarding the work- life balance required in athletics. She observed that “work- life balance” in athletics seems to be more emphasized to women, perhaps sending a discouraging message.
DeBauche interjected that there needs to be a change in the perception of what a successful coach looks like, noting the concept that successful coaches must sleep in their offices sends the wrong message.
Phillips, like Lee and Kennedy a former Vanderbilt basketball student-athlete, talked about athletics as being a big family and affording opportunities to build life- long relationships. Phillips spoke several times from her varied role as a former coach, current administrator and as the mother of a current student- athlete.
Panelists agreed that while encouraging young women to be confident and actively follow their dreams, it is equally important to educate young men that their female counterparts are worthy of significant roles and will play a major role in the athletic departments of the future.