retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

What took so long?

ESPN is reporting that the National Football League (NFL), a league hard-hit in recent seasons by domestic violence accusations against a number of players, has hired its first full-time, regular season female official. According to the story, "Sarah Thomas, who has worked exhibition games, will be a line judge for the 2015 season, the league announced Wednesday. She was one of nine new officials hired Wednesday."

"I know that I will probably stand out being the first,'' Thomas said yesterday, "but as far as players and coaches, I've been around a good little while, and I think they know who I am and just want to make sure I can do my job ... I am a female, but I don't look at myself as just a female. I look at myself as an official."

The ESPN story says that Thomas, who works during the week as a pharmaceutical representative, has "already broken ground in the officiating field as the first woman to work college games in 2007. She was the first female official on the FBS level and the first to officiate a bowl game, the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit ... she began officiating college games when she was hired by Conference USA, working as a line judge and head linesman. She also has worked the Senior Bowl, the Fight Hunger Bowl, the Medal of Honor Bowl and the Conference USA Championship game in 2010 and 2014."

Thomas says she's never been treated as anything other than a professional by players and coaches.

All of which is great, though I still have to wonder what took so long. Where are the women umpires in Major League Baseball, as well as in other professional sports?

This isn't, of course, just a sports issue. Remember, it was just a couple of months ago that I was writing here about research released by the Network of Executive Women (NEW) saying that over the past few years in the retail business, there's been no real improvement in the number of women in executive ranks. That continues to surprise me, because there is a perception of positive change. But perception, in this case, is not reality.

One of the things that professional sports leagues have to do is create a pool of female candidates who can move to the big leagues when a) they qualify, and b) there are openings. That means, for example, that there ought to be one woman on every minor league baseball crew, so they get the experience necessary to move up the ladder. Just as businesses cannot be complacent about gender diversity within their ranks ... they have to be aggressive about creating a pool of future leaders who look like their customers.

There was a story on CNN the other day about how "corporate America has few female CEOs, and the pipeline of future women leaders is alarmingly thin ... Only 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women, according to a CNNMoney analysis."

The story went on to say that "progress likely to be slow: But don't expect more women to break through the ranks unless there is a strong pipeline of female talent behind the CEO.
That's why CNNMoney analyzed the next four executive positions -- chief financial officers, chief operating officers and other key roles at major companies. Women hold 16.5% of these four positions just below CEO in the S&P 500. Yet that's still a small pool of leaders to draw from."

This is all about sports and business looking more like life. As they do it, I believe it will be an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: