Trailblazer Women in Sports Leadership


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Judith Russo, Centurion Staff

Five women leaders in professional sports shared information on their careers, experiences and advice during a panel discussion “For the Win: Championing Women Leaders in Sports” on Sept. 30.
The discussion was part of the B. PHL INNOVATION FEST: Rising Through Collaboration.
Leslie Gudel, COO, ELEVATE Sports & Media, and a former CSN Sports Anchor, interviewed Bonnie Clark VP, Communications, Philadelphia Phillies, Blair Listino Chief Financial Officer, Philadelphia Flyers, Catherine Raiche, Vice President of Football Operations, Philadelphia Eagles and Lara Toscani Weems VP of Corporate Communications, Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment.
Each woman has a unique story of how she rose to the top, but each share common themes: hard work, long hours, go-getting, honing skills and networking.
Raiche had such a passion for sports that she gave up her law career and volunteered for her hometown team until she got an offer. Clark, however, wasn’t really a fan. She had to learn it, but she likes the objectivity it gives her.
Women have traditionally been underrepresented in sports leadership, according to Laura Burton in her book, “Women in Sport Leadership.”
A 2019 World Economic Forum article seems to share this thought, stating “There is substantial research to show that diversity brings many advantages to an organization: increased profitability and creativity, stronger governance and better problem-solving abilities.”
Trailblazers are showing us diversity is valuable to the organization. According to the Wall St. Journal, the Eagles have five women on their executive team. In 2019 they had more women executives than any other NFL team. The Phillies upped social media aimed towards women.
During COVID, there were significant challenges in their jobs and to their organizations. Listino, CFO Nominee of 2021, as chief financial officer for the Flyers was considering “financial report reports for 1500 scenarios.”
Raiche, the first VP of Operations of an NFL team, said drafts were virtual and she missed the side conversations which can be very revealing.
Weems, named to internationally renowned Leaders in Sport “Leaders Under 40,” saw access standards changing and operation services shifting making it better for the future.
Clark, the Phillies first female VP, said with limited access to the media the press didn’t get to know the players in a personal way and she had to do crisis PR.
Each woman has had personal challenges and sacrifices to make.
Listino came in for the panel from maternity leave, Clark’s children slept on couches while she worked. Gudel and Weems have special needs children. They depend on nannies, family and friends to help out.
Weems is confident in these choices, stating “there’s sacrifice in anything anyone does.”
“Experience,” says Clark “is more valuable than an MBA.” She advises getting experience at college or high school levels to build your resume.
Weems says on her Facebook page, she “honed in on her job in marketing and decided to be the very best and take advantage of the opportunity instead of being married to having NFL, NHL or NBA on her business card.”
Raiche encourages anyone who feels stuck in their path by adding, “sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward… don’t limit yourself.”
“Jump at opportunities to hone your skills, even if it is for next to no payment.” Gudel, Philly’s first female sportscaster, said in a quote from an article in the Intelligencer.
She adds, “if you don’t ask, the answer is no.”