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What the WNBA Teaches Us About Showing Up for Women in the Workplace

Updated: Apr 17

I grew up playing basketball, live in South Carolina, and have always been a huge Dawn Staley fan, so naturally, I was locked into this year’s women’s NCAA tournament. Like many people, I’ve been angered by the lack of respect, regard, and equity that women’s basketball players are treated with, especially as their careers advance to the professional level. 

It reminds me so much of the journey that women face in the workplace. 

I would bet that the women working behind the corporate scenes of the NCAA, WNBA or other professional sports entities are having a similar experience of being undervalued and underpaid. Regardless of the sector or line of work, across the board, White supremacy has taught us to normalize giving women less – and even less to Black and Brown women. 

In the WNBA’s case, many have articulated how deepened support of the league beyond pointing out its obvious inequities can encourage growth. Visibility, sponsorships, and backing the league with our financial support by showing up at games and buying merchandise have all been touted as potential solutions to see the WNBA and its players advance. These same principles apply to the field of DEI and to businesses and leaders who are committed to dismantling White supremacy culture in the workplace.

Table of WNBA starting salaries in 2018
Table of salaries for the top ten WNBA draft picks in 2018.

Waning Support With Age

Maya Moore, retired WNBA star and soon-to-be inductee into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, wrote an op-ed in 2015 describing the lack of visibility that women’s basketball players receive once they reach the WNBA. “There’s this unnatural break in exposure for the highest level of women’s basketball in the world,” Moore describes. “We go from amazing AAU experiences to high school All-American games to the excitement and significant platform of the collegiate level to … this. All of that visibility to … this.” 

Black and Brown women experience a similar drop in support as they become mid-career professionals. 

The cool networking opportunities and experiences from larger brands and corporations are less abundant for women beyond their college and early career years, and new biases creep in that prevent Black and Brown women from receiving the mentorship, professional development opportunities and ultimately the compensation that they deserve. 

Three women sit outside working on a computer

A company whose leadership is intentional about building a culture of inclusion and uprooting anti-Blackness is mindful of this dropoff and takes proactive measures to ensure that Black and Brown women are supported across all stages of their careers. Providing meaningful opportunities for coaching, professional development, or continuing education are actions that can retain mid-career Black and Brown women and accelerate their careers to new heights. 

Visibility & Sponsorship

In the context of the WNBA, it’s easy to see how a lack of visibility, sponsorship and marketing makes the careers of women basketball players is vastly different from that of their men counterparts in the NBA. 

The difference in the working world and outside the powerhouse of professional sports is much more subtle. 

Wage transparency is still a battle in the workforce, and the opportunities that women are freely given to advance varies greatly depending on their line of work. But whether it’s the classroom, boardroom, hospital, or court, all Black and Brown women are worthy of being championed and supported in their professional journeys. 

Equal Pay Day in the US: Calendar shows AAPI women in May, LGBTQIA+ in June Moms in September, Black Women in September, Native Women in November, and Latinx Women in December

Visibility and sponsorship are commonly tossed around in the field of DEI, but to actively embody those principles means to put our money where our mouth is to tangibly shift the conditions that many women are working under. Sponsoring (or finding sponsors for) women to attend critical conferences and events in their sector, and making space for them to build relationships with other leaders is key to this progress.  In the past year, I've seen professional development money dwindle for mid-career women of color, with many not receiving funds.

From the WNBA and beyond, visibility, sponsorship and creating opportunities for advancement regardless of age are crucial pillars of a DEI strategy that will allow Black and Brown women to thrive in the workplace. Schedule your consultation with ShiftEd Consulting today to begin your journey. 

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