WNBA sets the bar high for racial, gender hiring

The WNBA for 14 consecutive years, including last season, has earned top marks for racial and gender hiring with A-pluses across the board — racial, gender and overall — says The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES). 

TIDES’ latest report card on the women’s pro basketball league awarded A-plus grades for the following seven categories: head coaches, assistant coaches, general managers, vice-presidents and above, managers to senior directors, professional staff and league office. “They [the WNBA] continue to have strong leaders, starting with [founding president] Val Ackerman up to the current leadership [Commissioner Cathy Engelbert],” TIDES Director Richard Lapchick told the MSR.

Lapchick, however, cited in his executive summary “a significant decrease” in WNBA head coaches of color. 

As a result, let’s take a diversity stroll, if you may, through the years, first on court and then upstairs. We unabashedly examine black hiring, which historically mainly comprises the last hired group when it comes to employment. The W, despite all the many A’s it has stacked up over the years, isn’t immune to this hiring practice. 

Using raw numbers in the 2018 report appendix, the following is a breakdown by position, also showing by year or years the highest-ever, the lowest-ever, and the current (2018) numbers:

  • Black head coaches (note — New York and Seattle have yet to hire a black coach)

      Highest: five (2000, 08, 11); Lowest: two (2005, 06); 2018 — three

  • Black assistant coaches

      Highest: 20 (2015); Lowest: five (1998, 99); 2018 — 16

  • Black GMs

      Highest: five (2012); Lowest: two (2006. 07, 16); 2018 — three

  • Black VPs

      Highest: 15 (2017); Lowest: one (2011); 2018 — 10

  • Black managers to senior directors

      Highest: 32 (2018); Lowest: four (2010, 11); 2018 — 32

  • Black CEO/President

      Highest: four (2015, 18); Lowest: zero (2012); 2018 — four

In a league where 68.5 percent of the players are black, the non-player positions should be more reflective of this player diversity percentage-wise, especially among black head coaches. “It does matter when you look across the board,” Indiana Coach-GM Pokey Chatman said. 

“We are a league that gives people an opportunity. I think overall the league is very inclusive and diverse. When there are opportunities, we are not afraid to make that move,” said Chatman.

Chatman is the only female among the three WNBA black head coaches this season (Chicago’s James Wade and Derek Fisher of Los Angeles are both in their first year). She completed her third season in Indiana with nine seasons overall. She has been a head coach either in the pros (U.S. and Russia) and college (LSU) for nearly 20 years. “I love what I do,” she said.

However, after three seasons Chatman was fired on Monday by Tamika Catchings, the team’s basketball operations vice-president, as the first casualty after the season, which ended on Sunday. The Fever missed the postseason all three summers.   

Lapchick also lauded NBA teams that hired women, including several former W players, as assistant coaches or front office execs. “It’s no question that Swin Cash’s hiring [in June as New Orleans vice president of basketball operations and team development] is as important as the other hires the NBA made,” he stressed.

“I’m pretty sure…that there will be a woman head coach not too far in the distant future,” Lapchick surmised.

Three of the 10 current NBA women assistants are black. But will these sistahs get the historic first crack at being the league’s first female head coach?