WNBA earns top marks for racial and gender hiring practices

The WNBA is widely recognized as one of the most progressive organizations in professional sports. This news reaffirms it. The 2021 WNBA Racial and Gender Ratings (RGRC), released this month by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Florida Central confirms the best brand in the sport for racial and gender hiring practices. The WNBA received an A + for race and an A + for gender, and an overall rating of A +. The WNBA has ranked first in racial and gender ratings since the WNBA’s inaugural report in 2004. The WNBA focuses on laying the foundation for powerful and inclusive representation throughout the organization in terms of the league office. , the players, the coaches, the staff and the administration.

The WNBA continues to set the example for gender-inclusive and racial hiring practices in all professional leagues. The WNBA set many historic records, as reported in these ratings. These included the number of women in ownership positions, the percentage of women in team chairmanship positions, and people of color in assistant positions, leading to the overall A + score.

This was the 17th. consecutive year the WNBA has received at least an A for its overall race, gender, and combined grades. The WNBA scored 98.3 points for racial hiring practices and 96.8 points for gender hiring practices in 2021 and continued to set the example for gender-inclusive and racial hiring practices in all professional leagues.

The only men’s leagues that come close to the WNBA were the NBA and MLS, both deserving A’s this year for their racial hiring practices.

“This has been an incredible year for the WNBA!” said Reverend Jesse Jackson, founder and leader of the organizations that came together to form Rainbow / PUSH, after reviewing the ratings. “Not only did they celebrate their 25th anniversary on the court, but Dr. Lapchick reports so many wonderful steps of progress that have been taken off the court in his business and hiring practices! Our National Athletic Director, Dr. Joseph Bryant has also spearheaded numerous efforts this year to highlight the WNBA, recognizing many of its players, executives, and the great impact the league has had in promoting education, diversity, inclusion and justice. Every men’s league can take an immense example from the WNBA for their incredible contributions, consistently using their voice and platform for social change, community service, intentional inclusion, and carrying the banner of ‘winning’ in life beyond the game. playing field! “

Athletes are and have always been instrumental in shifting society’s point of view from social justice to mental health to LGBTQ + rights. WNBA players are no exception and are often the leaders of those movements. The WNBA has picked up with its diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives where it left off after the 2020 season. The league has several initiatives focused on civic engagement, LGBTQ + advocacy, and the accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines.

In April 2021, a public service announcement featuring Layshia Clarendon, Nneka Ogwumike, Elizabeth Williams and A’ja Wilson debuted during the 2021 WNBA drawing. It highlighted the disparities and significant impacts that communities of color have lived during the pandemic. The ad encouraged fans and the public to educate themselves about the COVID-19 vaccine. The WNBA also offered vaccination clinics nationwide to emphasize the importance of vaccines.

The WNBA has a social justice council that focuses on social justice programming and initiatives that include anti-racist training, voter registration, and campaigns.

Clarendon, selected ninth in the first round of the 2013 drawing, is on the WNBA’s social justice council and became the first openly non-binary and transgender player in the WNBA. Clarendon, who uses pronouns interchangeably, has been an inspiration and role model for many in the LGBTQ + community. Her impact on transgender awareness has been felt by journalists and queer athletes who hope to see Clarendon continue to change the landscape of the WNBA. The league’s commitment to promoting inclusive environments can be seen when it raises awareness with journalists and commentators about Clarendon’s pronouns so that it is respected.

The WNBA has found a new way to include internal changes that advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Recognizing that family planning and personal health has been a challenge for many of its players, the WNBA has announced an increase in benefits related to health care and family planning. The agreement between the league and the players’ association includes reimbursing veteran players for family expenses such as surrogacy, adoption and egg freezing. The agreement also expanded paid maternity leave, child care and breastfeeding adjustments. The most revolutionary change to come out of the deal was free access to fertility services, which has often been seen as a luxury rather than a necessity.

The recent call for new family care and healthcare support can be attributed to the candor of many players about their journeys to raising their families. Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart became a mother this year after guiding Team USA to the women’s basketball gold medal. She and her wife, her Russian Premier league teammate Marta Xargay Casademont, welcomed their daughter, Ruby, born through a surrogate on August 9. Stewart was unable to reap the rewards of the free fertility treatments, having frozen her eggs earlier in 2019.

Still, Stewart’s story, as well as Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles’s candor this summer about her mental health and well-being, has illuminated women’s health and the overall health and well-being of athletes. Los Angeles Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike, who is also the president of the WNBA Players Association, has been honest about the need for a new attitude around women’s health. “I think women really turned this upside down,” Ogwumike said, according to Bloomberg, “especially when it comes to stigmas and social norms with the expectations that are imposed around working women having to decide between a family and a career “.

Following the completion of the 2021 WNBA Finals, the WNBA announced a new playoff format, ending the use of knockout matches. Starting next year, the league will use a best-of-three series to determine the semifinalists, and a best-of-five series for the semifinals and finals. In a statement, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the new format would allow fans to follow the league’s stars and top teams from the start of the postseason. The new format gives the WNBA a greater opportunity to generate income and showcase the talents of female players on television. This change highlights the WNBA’s dedication to innovation and developing the game of basketball.

Other opportunities for WNBA expansion could come in the form of a new franchise in Oakland, California. Alana Beard, a retired WNBA champion, two-time Defensive Player of the Year and four-time All-Star, has been clamoring for an expansion team in Oakland. “I’ve always envisioned owning a WNBA team,” Beard said in October when it was announced that she would be partnering with the African American Sports and Entertainment Group (AASEG). “It made sense to come together to be partners in this to bring something special to the community.”

Although Engelbert has stated that the new franchise is still some way off and “on the horizon,” Beard’s commitment to advancing the proposal is yet another example of how former WNBA players are committed to the league and the sport after retirement. . If Oakland becomes a home for a new WNBA team, that would open the door to new opportunities for ownership, presidency, executive committee and vice president positions – all key players in the league. It would also expand the number of players in the league, providing more opportunities for women to compete at the highest level.

While growing diversity through a new franchise remains far into the foreseeable future, the WNBA has improved in many categories as seen in the 2021 ratings. Women again held the majority of CEO / President positions, with 66.7%. As every year, the WNBA continues to lead among professional sports leagues – Major League Baseball (MLB), Major League Soccer (MLS), National Basketball Association (NBA), and National Football League (NFL) – in notes and scores. general.

There were many important findings in these ratings, including:

  • • The percentage of women in team president positions and people of color in assistant positions were all new milestones for the WNBA.

  • • The percentage of majority owners and owners with voting power who are women was 33.3 percent in 2021.

  • • The percentage of women with positions in the WNBA league office increased 4.5 percentage points, from 60.9 in 2020 to 65.4 percent in 2021.

  • • The number of black coaches increased from three in 2020 to five in 2021. The two new coaches in 2021 were: Noelle Quinn of the Seattle Storm and Darius Taylor of the Atlanta Dream.

  • • For the first time, a person who identifies as Native American or Alaska Native has held a manager or CEO position. (This category is comprised of basketball jobs and business operations from manager to CEO to CEO level, and includes player development, strength and conditioning, and general business operations.)

  • • There were eight women in CEO / President positions in 2021. This is the second time in the history of the WNBA ratings that a majority of CEO / President positions are women.

  • • The percentage of people of color who held assistant positions increased for the second consecutive season, from 54.2 percent in 2020 to 58.0 percent in 2021.

I call and encourage the men’s professional leagues to follow the lead of the WNBA, and to support the league’s efforts on and off the court. We cannot continue to hope that the most underrepresented and underserved in sports will bear the majority of the burden on diversity and fairness in sports.

Noor Ahmed made significant contributions to this column.

Richard E. Lapchick directs the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida. He is the author of 17 books and the annual Gender and Racial Ratings report, and is the president of the Institute for Sports and Social Justice. He is a commentator for ESPN.com covering the topics of diversity in sport.