Schwartz: Islanders Hold Women In Sports Panel Discussion

The Brooklyn Nets practice court at the Barclays Center was filled with people on Tuesday night and it had nothing to do with basketball, at least completely.  In reality, what took place didn’t have a complete attachment to hockey even though the event occurred just a short time before the Islanders took on the Montreal Canadiens.  The event covered all sports and specifically as it pertains to women who have chosen to work in the sports industry. 

The Islanders, who have historically been so involved in the community and have held been part of so many events over the years that have reached men and women of all ages, presented a wonderful and unique panel discussion called “Women In Sports”.

The event began with host Lea del Rosario, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for the Islanders, detailing some astonishing numbers including the fact that there are only 33 women (6.6%) CEO’s among the Fortune 500 companies.  Also, only approximately 25 percent of senior level roles are held by women even though women make up half the workforce.  And women on average earn 80 cents on a dollar as opposed to what men earn.   

Moderated by Islanders MSG Networks host/reporter Shannon Hogan, the panel included some of the most accomplished female executives in the sports industry to talk about a number of topics including their careers, the impact that women are making in sports today, mentorship, and how to get into the business.

Women are a big part of the National Hockey League today and there was even a women’s game between the United States and Canada this past January during NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis.  This Sunday, as part of International Women’s Day, NBC Sports Network is going to have an all-female crew that will broadcast and produce the telecast between the Blues and Blackhawks in Chicago.

Kate Scott will handle play-by-play, A.J. Mleczko will be the analyst, Katheryn Tappen will be the studio host with analyst Jen Botterill, Rene Hatelid will produce the telecast and Lisa Seltzer is the director.

“There are some big steps that are being taken with the league,” said Hogan during the panel discussion.   

Now in her 6th season with the Islanders, Hogan has become a favorite among many fans, especially young women who look up to her as a role model.  She is always willing to stop and talk with those who want to take photos with her and even to ask her questions about the business.

“I’ve actually had kids ask me will you be my mentor,” said Hogan.

Mentorship in the sports industry, for both women and men, is very important and the extremely accomplished professionals that were on stage Tuesday night are the very definition of those that young people should seek as a mentor and try to emulate. 

The hour-long discussion was followed by a period of time for those in attendance to network with others at the event as well as the opportunity to meet the women on the panel…

Susan Cohig, the National Hockey League’s Executive Vice President for Club Business Affairs.

Kimberly Davis, the NHL’s Executive Vice President for Social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Affairs. 

Deanne Pownall, Managing Director of Partnership Marketing for the United States Tennis Association.

Claudine Lilien, Senior Vice President of Client Solutions for Fox Sports.

Tara Gutkowski Schwartz, the National Basketball Association’s Senior Vice President of Social Responsibilty. 

And Jessica Berman, the Deputy Commissioner of the National Lacrosse League.

Berman, now the highest-ranking female ever for a men’s professional sports league, was thrilled with the opportunity to be part of such a special event. 

Especially since it was organized by one of her favorite teams!

“Being part of this panel was like a homecoming for me,” said Berman who also serves as the NLL’s Executive Vice President of Business Affairs.  “I grew up an Islanders fan living in Brooklyn.  My parents were even able to come to support me.  It was also quite special to be part of such an esteemed panel, and I particularly cherish opportunities to be side-by-side with my former boss at the NHL, the icon, Kim Davis.”

Berman joined the National Lacrosse League prior to this current season after being with the NHL for 13 years, most recently as Vice President of Community Development, Culture and Growth.   She was also the Executive Director of the NHL Foundation and was previously the NHL’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel. 

It was brought up during the discussion but as the panelists took time to meet the women in the audience on Tuesday night during the networking session, there’s no question that a popular question was for advice on breaking into what has traditionally been a male dominated industry.

It actually just made me cringe to write that last line because we’re now at the point where the sports industry is made of up of so many talented men and women and I’ve been blessed to work with so many in my career.  I watched the panel discussion with my 14-year-old son Bradley sitting next to me and when we talked about it at our seats just prior to the game, we agreed that a lot of what was discussed certainly applies to both men and women.

But, unfortunately, there are still obstacles and battles that women have to get through to establish a career in sports.  

“My advice to a young female (actually, this would be my advice to males or females, to be honest) wanting to work in the sports industry is three-fold,” said Berman.

“1-Own your trade.  Be the most qualified candidate because the sports industry is super competitive.”

“2-Relationship before task.  Build your network of supporters and allies.”

“And 3-Be authentic to who you are.  Never try to look like or act like everyone else, you would be hired for your unique contributions and perspectives, that’s why diversity matters.”

To say that the Islanders Women In Sports panel discussion and networking event was a success would be an understatement.  There are a lot of important topics discussed and it was a great opportunity for so many women (and some men in attendance) to really get a feel as to what the sports industry is about.

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a contributor covering the Islanders for NY Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio, and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club.

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