Breaking Barriers: Transforming Sports through Women’s Leadership

Leaders and attendees pose for a group picture. (Photo provided by the Durham Sports Commission)

Monday, April 22, 2024

By Kinslee Braddy

As the world of sports continues to evolve, so, too, does the narrative surrounding women’s roles as leaders within the heavily male-dominated field. This shift in power proved a deciding factor for three influential organizations. The Durham Sports Commission, Women Leaders in Sports, and the Greater Raleigh Chapter of WISE combined forces  to bring women from across the country together at the second annual Emerging Women in Sports Leadership Summit on April 11th in Durham.  

Kaila’Shea Menendez with the Durham Sports Commission echoed her belief that the event will help pave the way for younger generations looking for a way into sports. 

“We want people to walk away with relationships and with connections that will continue to develop,” she said. “We know that it takes a network of people to do anything. As you’re on your journey as an emerging leader, it’s important to have women around you who are also wanting to advance and exceed and wanting to lead.”

The Emerging Women in Sports Leadership Summit covered numerous topics designed to nurture and develop attendee’s abilities to lead effectively.  Despite the enormity of topics covered, communication was a key and consistent theme throughout the summit. 

Patti Phillips, the CEO of Women Leaders in Sports, emphasized the importance of having a growth mindset within sports. 

“You are creating your tomorrow,” she said. “Your true potential is unknown and unknowable, so be great at where you are to get to where you belong.” 

Kristin Frade, an employee for Novus Global, emphasized how to fuel your vision with motivation following Phillips’ inspiring words.

“You have to ask yourself – how much of a legacy am I leaving on the people around me,” she said. “You can have anything, but you cannot have everything. You have got to risk losing it to have it.” 

From CEOs to directors, there was no shortage of experience amongst the event’s roundtable speakers.  Lucy Mason, the assistant director of student-athlete experience from NCCU, emphasized how important it is for women to attend leadership summits.

“I think events like these help us empower the women we work with to take the chances and take lead within their career,” she said. “It encourages us to try different things where you know there might not be space for you at the moment. It shows you that if something can be done, you can be the one to do it.” 

Mason also emphasized how leadership summits can prove vital community-building opportunities. 

“A lot of the success comes from building a community where there is respect,” she said. “Being able to hear from industry leaders and people that are willing to change by using the work that others do is inspiring. Being able to bounce ideas off of each other and building that community is really important.” 

Promoting events like the leadership summit is a major part of how the Durham Sports Commission plans to bring more sports into the city. 

“These are quality experiences that they can have that will hopefully grow them and contribute to the pipeline as we want more women taking over,” Menendez said. “We want women who are leading at the top. If there are women who don’t aspire to necessarily be an athletic director, who don’t want to be a team owner, that’s okay. We just want them to know there is a space for them somewhere in the sports industry, if that’s what they aspire to be.” 

So, whether one aspires to be lightly, or heavily, involved in sports, there is a place for all women. The Emerging Women in Sports Leadership Summit hoped to convey that anyone can step up to the bat and take a swing. Without a doubt, the biggest takeaway from an inspiring summit should be that, no matter the path you choose to follow, you have to learn how to be the best version of yourself.