Dr. Condoleezza Rice did not set out be the first and only female member of the CollegeFootball Playoff Selection Committee. And she did not set out to break the long-standing male-only membership tradition at Augusta National Golf Club.
Her goal has always been to follow what she loves.
“I think the truth of the matter is, people who end up as ‘first’ don’t actually set out to be first. They set out to do something they love and it just so happens that they are the first to do it,” said Rice, who discussed her historic achievements in sports during her remarks at the NFL’s Women’s Summit.
“I don’t tend to think about I am the first this, or I am breaking that ceiling. What you want to do, you want simply to seek to do things you enjoy – that you think you might be good at. Then once you are there, make sure you are not the last.”
While addressing an audience of 250 influencers in sports including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and tennis legend Billie Jean King, Rice noted that once someone has been the first, they have an obligation to make it possible for others to do what they have done.
When asked to speak about hurdles that still exist today for minorities and women in the sports industry, Rice used the example of faculty hiring at universities and filling corporate board vacancies.
She explained that there is a tendency in these sectors to look in the same places year after year for experienced candidates. Thus, employers repeatedly hire identical applicants.
“Part of the challenge of breaking through is to change traditional patterns of hiring and advancement. It is not a question of people don’t have merit or they aren’t as good, or they have to make a compromise,” said Rice.
Therefore, Rice recommends looking outside of normal channels for qualified women and minority candidates. This is why she believes the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations vacancies and now mandates that league-wide women must be interviewed for executive openings, is so important.
“When you are told that you have to diversify your pool, you will get remarkable candidates within that pool. Sometimes hurdles are not conscious hurdles, ” Rice said.
“People are not trying to discount or keep women or minorities out. But they keep looking in the same channels; they keep finding the same people who are overwhelmingly white and male. So, it is a reason to be creative in your hiring.”
On the other side, Rice thinks that women and minorities also need to say, “I don’t see barriers.”
She said: “There is a kind of toughness that has to come with being different and that is not going to change. It goes both ways; the opportunities have to be opened up because people have to be looking. And those of us who are minority and female have to say, ‘I am going to breakthrough. I don’t care what the numbers look like .’”