The 2021 ESSENCE Festival of Culture’s Wealth & Power experience saw Christina Granville moderate a conversation between ESPN host Maria Taylor, NBA’s Vice President of Marketing Kelly Walton and Style & Image Consultant Rachel Johnson. The panel focused on the topic of Women in the Business of Sports.
During the segment, which was presented by Coca-Cola, the four women spoke about what it means to work in a male-dominated field and what role they can play in helping the next generation of women find their voices in the sports industry.
Taylor kicked off the conversation discussing ways she overcame some challenges. “A lot of what I learned growing up, was in the sports world. So, I played volleyball in college and you learned that if you practice really hard, if you really apply yourself that you’re going to have success on the court and unfortunately when you get into a male dominated field, it feels a little bit like you have a couple of hurdles.” Taylor added “One thing that I’ve learned, once you get into those rooms, you really have to be confident, you have to know your own worth….you’re in a room for a reason, your thought matters.”
Johnson agreed with Taylor and emphasized that being confident is key. “Another thing that’s really important for me in succeeding in a male-dominated field is having vision and having a real clan to execute the goal and that larger vision and coming to my clients and the brands that I work with, with a vision, has really propelled my career and kept me at the top of my field,” Johnson said.
Walton says “focus and flexibility” are two key components that help her remain successful in the sports industry.
“Focus on what you’re interested in and what you’re good at and continue to sharpen and refine your skills but also, flexibility to navigate those unfamiliar unforeseen opportunities that may arise.”
Before concluding the discussion, the four women gave advice to those looking to enter the business of sports.
“It is critical that you have a support system of women who are also in power positions…when I was rising up in this field I didn’t have that support system. I didn’t have women that looked like me that I could speak to about my challenges and we didn’t have the resources that we have now…,” Johnson said.
Walton agreed with Johnson and stated it’s also important to lean on men colleagues as another avenue to reach success.
“Male allyship is really critical. Just a blessing to me and my career, I mentioned earlier there was a male mentor who advised me to take a role that I wasn’t really open to and I’ve had male bosses, mentors, peers, etc. and men who really want to do the right thing and make sure that there is an equal seat at the table…when you do have your seat at the table, make space for other women…,” Walton said.
Taylor ended the conversation by informing viewers how they can overcome challenges they may face in the sports industry.
“Just know that there are a lot of things built into the system to tear you down, but you have to find ways that that builds you up. So just remember every time someone takes a shot, you’re getting just a little bit stronger…run your race, you can’t compare yourself to anyone else…,” Taylor said.