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“She’s Got Next” event explores opportunities, challenges for women in sports

April 25, 2024

Anchoring the sports desk. Decision-making in the executive suite. Jump shots from every angle—and distance. The last few years have seen big strides for women in all corners of athletics, but in 2024 we’ve seen this promise of the present—and more to come—illuminated like never before. 

On April 19, The Martin Group accentuated this moment with our first “She’s Got Next” panel discussion, which recognized local female leaders making a difference in the sports world. Built off our reoccurring content series of the same name, the event featured five women from Western New York’s sports landscape: Briana Aldridge, WKBW Sports Reporter; Rachel Cappellino, Buffalo Bills, Director of Partnership/Business Development; Jesse Ladoue McMullen, New Era Cap, Marketing Director, Licensed Sports; Cara Murphy, Buffalo Sabres, VP Marketing; and Barb Questa, St. Bonaventure, Interim Co-Director of Athletics/SWA.

Over the course of the morning’s program within our Buffalo office atrium, the quintet addressed a series of topics concerning women’s roles in athletics; how things have changed over their time within different corners of the industry; and what workplace dynamics continue to be a work in progress.

Here were some of the event’s takeaways.

A deep talent pool—and growing deeper

Not so long ago, women working in high-level positions within sports media, apparel, collegiate athletics, and professional franchises were scarce. Not anymore. According to New Era Cap’s Jesse Ladoue McMullen, women can now be found in all these roles—and with plenty of qualified candidates waiting in the wings.

“The female candidates coming to interview for positions at New Era Cap are so much more qualified than they were seven years ago,” Ladoue McMullen said. “They’re getting the right internships. They’re getting the right work study experiences and educational opportunities. I am so impressed with the rise of the quality I’ve been seeing enter the workforce in sports.”

“For me, it’s about excitement and opportunity,” Questa said. “The group we have up here, we are so different in the careers we have, but we’re all involved in sports, and are all very strong, confident women. I think a lot of people don’t understand that we can get involved in sports in so many different ways, with so many different educational backgrounds.”

Going mainstream

After an NCAA basketball tournament that broke viewership records and delivered memorable plays and players, the feats of female athletes are no longer relegated to the second half of SportsCenter. They lead the broadcast, all while introducing uninitiated spectators to skilled athletes doing spectacular things.

But this mainstream access came as a result of intentional practices.

“I can say I advocate for women’s sports,” Aldridge said. “And before, I thought that meant just going to local colleges to interview people and give them spotlight. I do try to push those stories, but I also started to take accountability for being one of the people who didn’t know the big names in women’s basketball two or three years ago. … We can’t just say we support women in sports, we support college basketball. Now, we actually have to be a part of it.”

Growing support systems

Support is essential for anything to grow. This has certainly been the case for women in sports, with our panelists helped along not only by fellow women in the industry, but also their male counterparts. That support is critical in helping women grow confident in their positions and possibilities; and in some cases, understanding that what makes you different is really your superpower.

“A few years ago, it was the Sabres 50th anniversary and we had a kickoff where the vice presidents talk about the initiatives for the upcoming season,” Murphy said. “On the marketing side, I put a lot of work into what our 50th season was going to look like. My boss at the time, John, suggested I go up and pitch. I was nervous at the time, but it gave me a growth opportunity and exposure to other staff members who see the work I put in. That was meaningful for me – that he had the confidence in me to speak on behalf of our team.”

Cultivating those support systems becomes crucial when trying to find that elusive work-life balance.

“This is going to be a hot take, but I think when working in sports, work-life balance doesn’t exist,” Cappellino said. “Because when you work for a team or for a brand that you’re so passionate about, it becomes part of your identity. That’s why sports matter so much to many of us. It’s part of who I am. It’s the fabric of me, and I think there are really good things that come from that.”

Speaking up still matters

Even though progressive strides have been made for women in sports, there’s still a long way to go—and advocating for change still pushes the pace.

While more women have gained leadership roles in sports organizations and companies, they still often find themselves as the only woman in the room. Learning to manage that comes with repetition and practice – trusting your instincts, research, and experience to voice your ideas and opinions with confidence.

“I’ve learned that you have to have uncomfortable conversations to make it comfortable,” Aldridge said. “And being a black woman in sports—the pool of women is small, and the pool of black women is a little bit smaller. I was very scared to have those uncomfortable conversations when starting out, but I’ve also learned that 90% of the men are actually willing to listen. I just had to speak up and have my voice to let it be heard.”

The future is bright

While obstacles continue for women working in the sports industry, steady growth with inflection moments that capture the imagination of the American public (like the 2024 NCAA women’s basketball championship) serve as inspiration to tackle those barriers. Young women not only have more opportunities to play sports, but they have a diversity of role models across a range of career paths. With more diversity in leadership positions, the sports industry can grow in more inclusive and creative directions – one voice at a time.Ready for more She’s Got Next? Find the whole series here

Amy Moritz

Public Relations Manager

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