Pursuing diversity is a critical initiative, and often it’s one that requires uncomfortable effort.
I have spent most of my adult life in professional baseball clubhouses. I would look around and generally feel like it was a diverse environment. I had teammates that looked very different than I am, that spoke different languages, came from different countries and had different cultural and religious backgrounds. I felt comfortable speaking my mind about contentious topics and confident I’d be given respect by my teammates. I generally assumed my experience was true across the board.
Of course, that’s simply not true for everyone. Clubhouses and locker rooms haven’t traditionally been very welcoming spaces for a gay man; while I’m sure I’ve played with or against many, sports haven’t created a safe space for gay athletes to be themselves. There’s certainly not enough representation and diversity in leadership across the industry. Listening to stories from Black members of The Players Alliance and members of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion council with the Giants, I know my experience isn’t the same for everyone.
I spent a lot of time this spring and summer listening to others. I know that women, people of color, non-binary people, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities and others have faced significant challenges entering the workforce when it comes to the sports industry, and once hired, faced further challenges both staying in the industry and reaching leadership positions within it.
The reasons for this can be varied. People within these groups may know less about the jobs available. They may face obstacles in getting those jobs, whether because of resources, because of networks or not looking like the people already in those jobs. They may be seen as not as qualified as more privileged applicants. They may face subconscious bias. They may be preemptively discouraged from pursuing roles, or they may be ostracized from teams once they land a position. Put simply – these communities face challenges that white men simply don’t have to think about.
Many of us have found ourselves in the comfortable position of thinking we aren’t discriminatory because we don’t actively participate in discrimination. “I’m not racist because I’ve never used a racial slur” or “I’m not homophobic because I don’t hate gay people.” However, I’ve been part of several hiring processes now, and I recognize that I have biases. I know others do too. I challenge myself on these biases, but they exist. When I look to hire women, I find myself concerned with how they may be treated by men in the building. I worry that someone may be disrespectful or inappropriate. I wonder what happens if someone says something that is insensitive or inappropriate.
The typical reaction, then, is to put the burden on the woman. How will she handle it if that situation comes up? Will she be a distraction? What if she’s unhappy, or some of the men in the clubhouse are?
Often, a leader or an organization may choose the easy way out – hire a candidate that may be similarly qualified that won’t present the same dilemma. In other words, hire the male candidate.
You can substitute any other minority for this example and come to the same conclusion. The first ask that people in excluded communities usually make is that people with privilege (in my case, a white man) talk to other people with privilege, and the above is the in part the reason why. Too often, we in privileged positions put the burden back on those who have always borne it.
The reason this happens comes from fear. We as leaders are fearful of saying the wrong thing, of being called out, of being condemned or shamed. I know that I don’t have all of the information or education. I am doing my best to improve, but that doesn’t mean I won’t make mistakes. Like all humans, I want to say the right thing, but I sometimes hesitate, filtering anxiously, wondering if it’s going to come out the wrong way or if I’m inadvertently going to sound insensitive or exclusionary.
Because of that fear, passive discrimination continues to rule. Privilege lets those of us in power go on about our days, not talking about these fears. Our discomfort rules our behavior and contributes to the cycle that keeps the numbers egregiously disproportionate in sports. Why are so many commissioners white men? Why are there so few black and brown owners, GMs or managers across all the sports? Women? Non binary people? Trans people? Why have there been so few openly gay decision makers in sports? Why are there so many native Spanish speaking players, but so few people in power that can speak to them in their language?
Part of confronting this fear is acknowledging that it takes affirmative steps to engage our own biases. We should be talking openly about our behaviors, calling out inappropriate behavior in the workplace and discussing what the right behavior looks like. We can ask more questions and listen more often to others, rather than assuming their experiences mirror our own. We can acknowledge that these fears exist and mistakes will happen but that working towards more inclusive workspaces is the right thing to do anyway.
Starting Pipeline for Change was important to me because diversity matters. I am a better leader when I surround myself with people who see the world differently than I do. Having many different perspectives at the table means that we get new ideas, new solutions to problems, new ways of seeing issues. Listening to the stories of others means I may observe a player uncomfortable in a conversation that I would have missed before or see an opportunity to encourage a staff member to share contributions that are being overlooked. I believe more equitable environments are the only way organizations across all sports are going to avoid stagnation in and continue to expand their audiences.
While these are challenging issues now, they shouldn’t always be, and the only way we can get better is by continually taking steps, even when they’re uncomfortable.