WNBA earns highest marks for racial and gender hiring practices

1:45 PM

One of the most progressive organizations in professional sport is the WNBA. Today's news reinforces that. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida has released the report card for the Women's National Basketball Association. The WNBA received an A+ for race and an A+ for gender. The racial and gender report cards have been held by the WNBA since 2004. The league office, players, coaches, staff and administration are all represented by the WNBA.

The WNBA has set an example for inclusive racial and gender hiring practices. The report card shows that the WNBA had many all-time highs. They included the number of women in ownership positions, percentage of women in team president positions, and people of color in assistant coaching positions, which led to the overall grade of A+.

For the 17th year in a row, the WNBA received an A for its overall race, gender and combined grades. The NBA scored 98.6 points for racial hiring practices and 98.6 points for gender hiring practices in 2021, and continued to set an example for inclusive racial and gender hiring practices.

The NBA and MLS both earned A's this year for racial hiring practices, which was close to the WNBA.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and head of the organizations that merged to form Rainbow/PUSH, said that this has been an amazing year for the WNBA. They celebrated their 25th year anniversary on the court, and Dr. Lapchick reports many wonderful steps of progress that have been made off the court in their business and hiring practices! The National Sports Director, Dr. Joseph Bryant, has led numerous efforts this year to highlight the WNBA, recognizing many of their players, executives, and the enormous impact the league has had to promote education, diversity, inclusion and justice. Every men's league can take a huge cue from the WNBA for their amazing contributions, consistently using their voice and their platform for social change, community service, intentional inclusion, and carrying the mantle of 'winning' in life beyond the playing field!

Athletes have always been involved in changing societal views. The leaders of those movements are often the players of the WNBA. After the 2020 season, the WNBA continued its diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. The league has a number of initiatives focused on civic engagement.

A'ja Wilson, Layshia Clarendon, Nneka Ogwumike, Elizabeth Williams, and others appeared in a public service announcement in April 2021. Communities of color have experienced significant impacts during the Pandemic. Fans and the public were encouraged to learn more about the vaccine. The vaccine clinics hosted by the WNBA were to emphasize the importance of vaccinations.

The social justice council of the WNBA focuses on social justice programming and initiatives that include anti-racism training, voter registration and campaigning.

Clarendon, drafted 9th in the first round of the 2013 draft, is the first openly non-binary and trans player in the league. Clarendon is an inspiration and role model for many in the LGBTQ+ community. Their impact on trans awareness has been felt by queer journalists and athletes who want to see Clarendon change the landscape of the WNBA. Clarendon's pronouns are respected by the league's commitment to fostering inclusive environments.

A new way to include internal changes that champion diversity and inclusion in the workforce has been found by the WNBA. The benefits related to healthcare and family planning have been increased by the WNBA in order to make it easier for its players to take care of themselves. Veteran players are reimbursed for family expenses such as adoption and egg freezing under an agreement between the league and players' association. The agreement added paid maternity leave, child-care and breastfeeding accommodations. The most significant change was access to free fertility services, which has been seen as a luxury and not a necessity.

The recent push for new health and family care support can be attributed to many players' candidness about their journeys to building their families. The Seattle Storm's Breanna Stewart became a mother earlier this year after leading Team USA to a women's basketball gold medal. She and her husband, Russian premier league teammate Marta Xargay Casademont, welcomed a daughter, Ruby, via surrogate. Stewart had frozen her eggs earlier in the year so she was unable to take advantage of free fertility treatment.

Stewart's story, Naomi Osaka's and Simone Biles' outspokenness this summer about their mental health and well-being, has shed new light on women's health and the overall health and well-being of athletes. Nneka Ogwumike is the president of the WNBA Players Association and she has been outspoken about the need for a new outlook on women's health. "I think women really flipped this on its head, especially as it comes to stigmas and societal norms with expectations thrust around working women having to make this decision between family and career," she said.

The use of single-elimination games was ended by the new playoff format announced by the WNBA. The league will use a best-of-three series to determine semifinalists and a best-of-five for the finals. The new format will allow fans to follow the best teams from the start of the playoffs, according to the commissioner. The new format of the league gives it more power to make money and show players' talent. The change shows the dedication of the WNBA to innovation and growing the game of basketball.

A new franchise in Oakland, California, may be one of the opportunities for the WNBA to expand. A four-time All-Star and two-time defensive player of the year, Beard is pushing for an expansion team in Oakland. When it was announced that she would partner with the African American Sports and Entertainment Group, Beard said she had always wanted to be an owner of a WNBA team. It made sense to partner on this to bring something special to the community.

Beard's commitment to moving the proposal forward is an example of how former players are still committed to the league after retirement. If Oakland were to be the home of a new WNBA team, it would open the door for new opportunities in ownership, president and C-suite positions, as well as vice president positions. It would allow more women to compete at the highest level by increasing the number of players in the league.

The WNBA has improved in a number of categories as seen in the report card of the year 2021. The majority of CEO positions were held by women. The National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and the National Football League all have the same grades and scores as the WNBA.

There were many highlights in the report card. They include:

The percentage of women in team president positions and people of color in assistant coaching positions were all new highs.

33.3 percent of majority owners and owners with voting power are women.

The percentage of women holding positions in the league office increased from 60.9 in 2020 to 65.4 in 2021.

The number of Black head coaches increased from three in 2020 to five in 2021. The Seattle Storm and Atlanta Dream had new head coaches in the year 2021.

A person who identifies as American Indian or Alaska Native has held a manager position. The category includes basketball and business operations jobs from manager to executive director and senior director level.

In the year 2021, there were eight women in CEO/president positions. This is the second time in the history of the report that a majority of the CEOs are women.

The percentage of people of color who held assistant coaching positions increased for the second year in a row.

I encourage the men's professional leagues to support the league's efforts on and off the court, and to follow the lead of the WNBA. We can't expect the most underrepresented and underserved in sports to carry the load of diversity and equity.

This column was made significant by the contributions of Noor Ahmed.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport is at the University of Central Florida. He is the author of 17 books and the president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. He has commentary on diversity in sport for the website. Follow him on social media.