According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport’s (TIDES) latest figures, nearly a third of the National Football League management jobs (28 percent) are either people of color or women or both.
“I am a double or triple minority — I never played the game, I am a woman, and I am a minority,” admitted Vanessa Siverls, who begins her 11th season this year in the NFL as a program manager in the league’s Football Development office.
The MSR ran into her after she attended the Big Ten-Big East women’s leadership symposium in Chicago in early March. She was in town on NFL business.
“My role is in [the] programming and development of people, and branding and communication. It’s a pretty new sub-department in the overall football operations department,” she explained.
“My background is in New York theater. It was a natural fit [when she was hired 10 years ago] when the NFL started to develop programs to help these huge kickoff events [such as the Super Bowl and this week’s draft].” She has successfully applied her “creative side” in fan-featured events and “engages with those fans.”
Siverls pointed out how important it is that the NFL not ignore nearly half its fan base, 47 percent of whom are female. “Certain models that work well for men might not work well for women,” she said, adding the league must determine “what that means in the future for women.”
Although she and fellow Black females seemingly aren’t as visible, “We have minority women representing in consumer product, in my area of football operations, in finance, in creatives,” noted Siverls. “Although it may not be much, the few that we do have contribute in a great way.” Such as Player Engagement Vice-President Kim Fields, who is one of three Black female vice-presidents.
“We’re slowly but surely developing women to have leadership [positions in the NFL],” said Siverls. “The development of women at all levels is very important, whether it’s front office, at the club level, and especially the fans at the grassroots level. It’s really important to have more women of diverse backgrounds in all the different areas that touch football.”
The NFL earlier this year announced that the league’s first woman official will work games this upcoming season. “We are really excited [about] our development program,” continued Siverls. “We are developing two women as full-time NFL officials, and we are putting programs in place to ensure that the pipeline remains strong and that they get to see it on the younger level of being a career choice to diversify the NFL in years to come.”
The current landscape for women leadership, whether in her league or throughout sport, “is still in its baby stages,” concluded Siverls. “Diversifying and including women at the NFL level is going to have to start with the development of women who touch the game of football at all levels.”
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