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Title IX | I Want to be an Owner
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Laura Gentile, espnW Imagines The Future Of Women’s Sports

As a female journalist and sports fan, I cannot help but notice that people are often

Dana Point, CA - October 9, 2013 - St. Regis Monarch Beach: Welcome Reception during the 2013 ESPNW Summit. (Photo by Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)

Dana Point, CA – October 9, 2013 – St. Regis Monarch Beach: Welcome Reception during the 2013 ESPNW Summit.
(Photo by Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)

uncomfortable talking about women’s sports. And when the subject of creating platforms specifically dedicated to female athletes and sports fans arises the conversation goes from uncomfortable to divisive.

There are those who are firmly against any programming or platforms that cater to female sports fans and athletes, and there are those who are for it. The part that baffles me is that in 2013, the “for and against” conversation still exists. On some level it is almost as if there are “red” and “blue” sides on this issue (and considering the tone and tenor of today’s political climate, we’re seeing first-hand what happens when two sides cannot agree).

It would be naïve of me to think that my comments regarding this issue can all of a sudden create unity on this topic, but I invite you to consider this question.

If women’s sports were everything WE believe it can be, what would it look like?

I wish I could take credit for this question; it actually belongs to Laura C. Gentile who is the vice president of espnW who started exploring it in 2008.

“We’d covered women’s sports for decades. We’d served millions of women, but we’ve never focused on women as a target audience with a discreet business unit,” said Gentile. “We just started thinking, if we were to create a business at ESPN for women, what would it look like?”

They talked to women to find out what they wanted and what they would accept. In response, they heard, “I know ESPN is a leader and they have incredible credibility. If they do it right and it is authentic, I’d embrace it.”

So began the genesis of espnW, a place for women who love sports; that speaks to them as athletes and fans.

“We thought long and hard about these five letters, espnW, and what they need to represent and what they need to stand for,” Gentile said. “They need to be action oriented and forward looking, consistently progressive, innovative and also of the highest quality. And we want this to be a brand that women think is cool and vibrant.”

In 2010, espnW launched with a five and ten-year business plan. During the first annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit, Gentile spoke openly about the dynamic of women’s sports fans and coverage at ESPN. At that time,  ESPN.com reached over 5 million women a month, and ESPN the Magazine reached over 3 million female readers that year. Women made up over 40% of the viewing audience, yet only contributed to 23% of the viewing hours.

Gentile said, “That’s a dynamic we are going to change, by creating a specific and unique environment for women at espnW.com. We are creating a home for women athletes and fans – the place for sports-minded women to go and stay.”

However, the concept of espnW was not met with tremendous fanfare, and it suffered bruises in the beginning. There were critics who did not understand what they were trying to accomplish, and many who did not want to understand.

“That was a bit unforeseen because a lot of that criticism came before we even had a product. They assumed the worst. That this would be dumbed down, that it would be pink, or it would be condescending,” said Gentile.

“I think what they missed is the authenticity behind it. And unfortunately, some of that criticism came equally from men and women.

Interestingly enough, Gentile believes that the criticism they experienced in their first two years has made the site stronger. She was never under any illusion that creating a dedicated digital platform for women to converse and see issues that matter to them would be easy. As a result, espnW sharpened its message, took more risks, and explored innovation.

Recently, espnW launched a new responsive website that allows users to seamlessly shift between a desktop, tablet, and mobile device. Additionally, its 2012-2013 integration featured the Nine for IX documentary series, In the Game with Robin Roberts, the 3 to See, and The Summer of W. As a result, ESPN.com is reaching 10 million women per month, and in August of this year espnW.com reached over 4 million women.

“We’re reaching new women. We’re also serving the women that we’ve always served,” Gentile said. “We’re also opening a lot of eyes that women’s sports are part of the future. The dynamic of changing viewing hours and habits; that is going take a long time.”

Fortunately, Gentile has found that the conversation surrounding espnW has swung from a lot of people questioning why to people saying “what’s next?”

So what is next?

There are plans to go deeper in the college space, where espnW will be featured in women’s basketball and softball telecasts. Also, there is more that they want to do across television. Ideally over time, you will see more and more programming from espnW across the network that engages women.

Also, expect to see continued partnerships with the corporate community. Nike, Gatorade, and P&G were founding partners even before there was a product, and they are still on board. Likewise, Toyota, JBL by Harman, Under Armour, and Rite Aid are sponsoring espnW’s fourth annual Women+ Sports Summit currently being held in Dana Point, California (October 9-11).

espnW and its summit demonstrate the belief that people who have different conversations about women’s sports can collectively come together and imagine what the future can look like.

Good Night Sports Fans,

Alana

Ernst & Young Studies The Connection Between Female Executives And Sports

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This post originally appeared on Forbes.com (6/24/2013)

Research shows that women and girls who participate in sports are less likely to take drugs, engage in abusive relationships, or have unwanted pregnancies. And they aremore likely to graduate from high school, receive post-graduate degrees, and earn more money.

A new study, coinciding with the 41stAnniversary of Title IX,  released by accounting firm Ernst & Young has added an additional benefit of Title IX and the impact of participating in sports –becoming a C-suite business executive.

Ernst & Young commissioned a global online survey to investigate the important role of sports in the development of female executive in connection with its Women Athletes Global Leadership Network, whichI reported on last March. The first-of-its-kind network is designed to connect female elite athletes with business and government leaders who can mentor, inspire, and open doors after their competitive sporting career.

“When I think about Title IX, we see the societal impact that it is having, ” saidBeth Brooke, Global Vice Chair, Public Policy for the Ernst & Young organization, a US Title IX scholarship recipient and one of Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women.

“We all know business financial performance improves when more women are in senior levels of management and leadership.”

Brooke and Donna de VaronaOlympic Champion and advisor to Ernst & Young’s Women Athletes Global Leadership Network, have long believed in the strong correlation between sport and success in business, most of which anecdotal or based on outdated research. In the end, their assumptions were validated.

The study found that 90% of the women surveyed had played sports either at primary and secondary school, or during university or other tertiary education, with this proportion rising to 96% among C-suite women. Moreover, in comparing C-level female respondents to other female managers, far more had participated in sports at a higher level. Ultimately, 55% of the C-suite women had played sports at a university level, compared with 39% of other female managers.

The respondents included 821 senior managers and executives (40% female, 60% male) who work at companies with annual revenues in excess of US$250 million. Together they represented 15 different countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom, and United States) and a wide range of industries including but not limited to agriculture, automotive, entertainment, media and publishing, government/public sector, financial services, and technology.

“I find it fascinating that sport has such a strong connection to success in business,” said Brooke. “Arguably C-suite women are some of the most successful women, and more than half of them played at a more advanced level than just the general population of women in business that had sport in their background.”

Additional research findings include:

  • 90% of women agree that teams are the best way to address increasingly complex business problems, while 82% agree that improving their organization’s ability to develop and manage teams will be essential for future competitiveness.
  • When comparing C-level female respondents to other female managers, a far higher proportion had participated in sports at a higher level, especially at university or as a working adult. For example, nearly seven in ten (67%) women now occupying a C-level position had participated in sports as a working adult, compared with 55% of other female managers, while 55% of the C-suite women had played sports at a university level, compared with 39% of other female managers.
  • More than three-quarters, or 76%, of women agree that adopting behaviors and techniques from sport in the corporate environment can be an effective way of improving the performance of teams.

“As a Title IX advocate and the first president of the Women’s Sports Foundation I have always felt that if you have numbers and research you can make your case,” said de Varona.

“I am thrilled about this research. I think the women who are athletes that have not awakened to the fact they have all of these skills will learn from the research, and those who are looking for employees and have yet to discover that diversity is strength.”

For more information visit the Women Athletes Global Leadership Networkwhich shares the inspiring stories of female leaders and their connections to sports. 

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