WNBA grades out with an A in diversity hiring

As the emphasis on diversity and equality for women in the workplace continues to dominate the sports world across all major professional leagues, one league stands out above the rest in providing new opportunities to these minority groups in the workplace.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), provides a yearly racial and gender report card for the NBA, NFL, MLB, WNBA, MLS, and college athletics showcasing how these leagues do in hiring women and minorities. In their 2020 racial and gender report card, the sports think tank praised the WNBA with high remarks as the league received an A-plus across the board in their overall hiring process.

This includes being represented in management. When it was announced that former WNBA player Renee Montgomery would be a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, the move put representation on a new level.

“It’s exciting when you see representation at any high level of management,” Montgomery said during her introductory press conference as co-owner of the Dream. “It’s exciting, and there’s been a lot of talk about it amongst players, and there’s been a lot of talk about what would it look like for a player to be in that position. And so, I recognize that this is an opportunity not just for myself but for players as a whole and whether that’s women that are players or men, just seeing themselves differently, in a different light.

PALMETTO, FL – JULY 25: Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury dribbles the ball against the Los Angeles Sparks on July 25, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. 2020 NBAE (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

When releasing their grades, the institute touted the WNBA as being the leader in the industry for their role in improving hire practices in terms of racial and gender candidates. The WNBA is no stranger to high marks for their diverse hires, as the league has received an overall grade of an A or higher for 16 straight years from TIDES.

Dr. Richard Lapchick, the founder and director of TIDES and the primary author of the reports believes that the imbalances of diversity are oftentimes either unequally distributed or not distributed at all. While the WNBA is clearly an outlier in his eyes, the balancing act they have maintained is something other leagues should emulate.

“These imbalances are most prominent when comparing the racial composition of two groups, athletes and assistant coaches versus head coaches and general managers,” Lapchick said. “When looking at racial hiring practices, the WNBA earned an A+ for assistant coaches. Additionally, the WNBA earned an A- for a general manager so there is a clear balance in equitable representation stemming from the team front office that is rarely seen in other leagues.”

PALMETTO, FL- AUGUST 23: Kayla Thornton #6 of the Dallas Wings plays defense against the Los Angeles Sparks on August 23, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.

Front office hires in the league grew more than fifty percent across both racial and gender positions. This was a key area that stood out for Lapchick as he points out that 35 of the 69 available vice president and above positions are held by women, amounting to be the largest percentage in the report card’s history.

The league was also able to increase the number of minorities in the assistant head coaching position, as that number reached an all-time high of 54.2 percent during the 2020 season.

While the WNBA continues to pave the way for equitable and inclusive hiring practices, the director believes that one league has always proved its effort in keeping a diverse workforce.

Despite the recent firing of Atlanta Hawks head coach Llyod Pierce, the NBA continues to be a leader in providing minorities the chances to succeed.

“While there is always room for improvement, the NBA has consistently led the way in terms of racial and gender hiring practices amongst men’s professional leagues,” Lapchick said.

The NBA, along with the MLS were the only other two leagues to receive marks above an A in terms of their racial hiring practices. The question now begins as to when the NBA begins to break down more barriers with more women hires, possibly leading to the first-ever woman head coach to lead a team.

PALMETTO, FL- SEPTEMBER 13: Elizabeth Williams #1 of the Atlanta Dream shoots the ball against the Washington Mystics on September 13, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. 2020 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The first-ever woman coach to join an NBA staff was Lisa Boyer back in 2001 when she was an assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since Boyer’s one-year stint as a coach, it took nearly 13 years until another woman coach would join the NBA ranks. The wait was nearly worth it though, as a feat never accomplished by a female coach provided a preview of what a diverse NBA coaching world would look like.

A glimpse of this possible future took place earlier in the 2020 season when San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon took over in place of Greg Popovich during a game in late December. The long-time Spurs coach was ejected early in the game during a matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, thrusting Hammon into the head coaching position as she called out plays in her first game action as head coach.

“Obviously it’s a big deal, it’s a substantial moment,” Hammon said. “I’ve been a part of this organization for 13 years, so I have a lot of time invested and they have a lot of time invested in me and building me and getting me better. Honestly, in the moment I was trying to win the game. I say this a lot, but I try not to think of about the huge picture and the huge aspect of it because it can get overwhelming.”

This milestone set by Hammon can only hope to be the springboard needed for more woman head coaches in the NBA, as the overall number of female coaches in the league remains drastically low.

Currently, there are ten female assistant coaches scattered throughout the NBA, with Hammon being the longest-tenured coach since she joined the Spurs staff back in 2014. The former WNBA star spent 16 years in the WNBA as she spilt her time between the New York Liberty and San Antonio Stars.

For this number to continue to grow in the NBA and across other major professional leagues, institutes such as TIDES will have to continue to play a large role in holding these leagues accountable when it comes to being more diverse in their hiring.

For now, leagues will have to look to the WNBA as a model for the type of hiring processes and practices they need to implant to further push this change in the sports world.

Featured image: PALMETTO, FL – AUGUST 1: Jordin Canada #21 of the Seattle Storm handles the ball during the game against the Los Angeles Sparks on August 1, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. 2020 NBAE (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)