2021 a year of progress in pro-sports’ race and gender hiring

The WNBA remains the undisputed leader in pro sports in racial and gender hiring practices according to the latest Racial and Gender Report Card (RGRC) recently released by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES).

The WNBA League Office, owners, head coaches, assistant coaches, managers, senior directors, professional team staff and players all got A+ grades. Only team vice presidents got the lowest racial hiring grade (B).

Among the “noteworthy improvements” over the previous year are:

  • Black head coaches up over nine percent
  • Women owners up 15%
  • Women in League Office positions up almost 5%
  • Black vice presidents have not fallen below 10% since 2015
  • POC assistant coaches jumped 13%, the W’s largest single-season increase
  • The WNBA had a majority of women team presidents for the second consecutive year

TIDES President Richard Lapchick recently told the MSR that the WNBA’s 17 consecutive years of high grades shouldn’t be surprising. “I’ve seen them at work,” he said. 

The league apparently has set the right standard among U.S. pro leagues in finding “the best people to interview for the job, and then have the best person in many cases,” added Lapchick. “It was women, women of color, and people of color in many areas. They’ve just done it the right way.”

The Minnesota Lynx this year hired its first Black basketball communications manager, Cymonne New. She is the first Black female in this position and the only Black person in such a position in Twin Cities pro and college teams. “Minnesota seems to be trailblazing in such a way,” said Lapchick.

The WNBA also got “bonus points” for its diversity and inclusion initiatives, such as civic engagement, combating anti-Asian hate, economic inclusion, food insecurity, health equity, LGBTQ+ advocacy, social justice and social programming. “They’ve been so consistent,” noted Lapchick.

Lapchick also talked about the latest NFL RGRC, which was released a couple of weeks after the WNBA report card. He believes that the racial reckoning of 2020 may have influenced the league to move further in its racial hiring—the NFL got an overall B grade and a B+ for racial hiring. “The NFL actually did improve their racial and gender grades this year,” he reported.  “That was definitely a positive development.”

“I think in the wake of the racial reckoning, there has been the telescope looking down at what they’re doing internally…because they realize the importance of diversity, inclusion and equity for the strength of the organization,” Lapchick pointed out.

The TIDES report highlights that NFL teams now can conduct head coaching interviews with coaches on other teams at Week 17 of the regular season, with consent given from the coach’s current team. This could further strengthen the long-existing Rooney Rule mandating that clubs interview at least one Black or POC for coaching vacancies.

“I think that what they’re doing is pulling out one more stop to do everything that the NFL can do on their side to show that there’s a diverse pool of candidates for all kinds of key positions we’re talking about in the report,” said Lapchick.

The 2021 NFL RGRC also points out that that the total number of NFL head coaches of color increased from 12.5% in 2020 to 15.6% in 2021, a 9% increase in POC GMs. All five men are Black, the highest in NFL RGRC history, and Blacks held 11% of team professional staff positions.

“A lot of good signs, a lot of high points,” concluded Lapchick on the year’s progress.