The NFL has changed its attitude toward women over the last few years, with more female commentators both in the studio and on the sidelines, an increased presence of women working for teams in both the front office and other positions, and various marketing campaigns designed to appeal to female fans.
Still, no one would disagree with the fact that the league has a long way to go. It is with that in mind that the Minnesota Vikings launched the “Women of the Vikings” initiative in January, forming a seven-person board with the goals of “improving the female fan experience and engagement, positively impacting the community, and empowering women in the workforce.”
The Women of the Vikings Initiative Is Needed
The Vikings Women’s Advisory panel consists of seven women with widespread influence throughout Minnesota:
- Tami Krause – Director of Vikings Women
- Amy Becker – VP of Donaldson Company
- Bridget Brennan – Founder/CEO of Female Factor
- Barbara Butts Williams – Executive Dean of External Relations & Partnerships at Capella University
- Sheila Oliver – VP/GM of Fox9
- Jennifer Smith – Co-founder and CEO of Innovative Office Solutions
- Lindsay Whalen – Player on the Minnesota Lynx
All of those women not only bring their own talents and abilities, along with their influence, but each of them also bring unique insight to various aspects of the board’s goals.
Improving the Female Fan Experience and Engagement
Women watch and play sports for the same reasons men do, but for a long time, the ads and targeted audience for the NFL was largely male exclusive. This attitude has shifted as advertisers and teams have realized they were missing out on a large percentage of the NFL fan base.
It’s not that tough to come up with some marketing that appeals to both genders. Campaigns about living life to the fullest, staying healthy, and reaching your full potential appeal to fans of every sex and age.
Some sports like tennis, volleyball, basketball, and skiing have more female role models than others, and this is one area where the NFL still falls short. It’s great to see women on the sidelines and in other positions of authority, but seeing women on the field will be even more inspiring, and the high number of female college and high school players mean it is only a matter of time before that becomes a reality.
Positively Impacting the Community
There are a number of ways the NFL and its many teams try to positively impact local communities, from partnerships with local charities to the NFL Play 60 initiative. However, the Vikings Women’s Initiative wants to take that even further, embracing charities focused on women’s issues and working toward better outcomes from women’s education.
Barbara Butts Williams was the youngest director of education in the state of Pennsylvania and believes that football is about “more than building a stadium, it’s really about economic development. It’s really about building a space that allows for people to come to and gather and be proud of.”
She believes that education is one of the keys to increasing women’s power in the workplace and helping others find their passion in life. Besides serving on the Viking’s Women’s Advisory Council, Williams also served on the Board of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which oversees the new Vikings stadium.
Empowering Women in the Workforce
One issue the NFL and almost every other industry is dealing with is equal pay for women in the workforce. There have been a number of improvements, but board members Amy Becker and Bridget Brennan both think things can get better.
Women in upper-level management roles seem to feel the pay gap the most compared to those in other positions. They earn 17 cents less than male peers for every dollar made, but there’s a pay gap in over a dozen common job titles over various levels of responsibility according to a new survey by Earnest.
Equal pay and opportunity are top priorities for the Vikings Women’s Advisory Council. The board has already been very active in their few short months of operations, hosting talks on leadership by Pam Borton and participating in the Women’s Career Development Symposium at the end of March.
This season, Sarah Blomquist will take over as Director of Human Resources at a time when full-time female staff makes up about 40% of the Vikings front office staff. “I’ve seen the power of gender-balanced – and all kinds of diversity-balanced – teams,” Blomquist said. “I’ve been part of those, and I know what it feels like, and I’m passionate about [replicating] that as much as possible.”
The model of the Vikings and the Women’s Advisory Council is one other teams could and should replicate. Bringing balance to the front office, the field, and advertisers can only be a boon to the team, the league, and women who are already fans of the sport.