The panel featured impressive women who hold various roles on the business side of hockey, including Kim B. Davis, Executive Vice President, Social Impact, Growth Initiatives & Legislative Affairs, from the National Hockey League, Dr. Aimee Kimball, PhD, CMPC, Director of Player and Team Development for the New Jersey and Binghamton Devils, and Melissa Caruso, Vice President of Hockey Administration, American Hockey League. The panel was moderated by the New Jersey Devils All-Access Host and Digital Reporter, Amanda Stein.
The panel began with Stein introducing the esteemed women to the crowd of nearly 100 people. From there, the panelists talked briefly about their careers and how it led them to work in the sport of hockey.
Davis started out as an investment banker and a CEO consultant for 23 years prior to coming to the NHL 16 months ago. She focuses on grassroots and community development across the NHL. Caruso began her career as an intern in the American Hockey League offices and held multiple different roles until landing in her current role where she oversees player transactions, player contracts, as well as scheduling for all 31 teams in the AHL. Dr. Kimball began her career in a sports medicine center, then went on work with the Pittsburgh Penguins and other sporting teams in Pittsburgh. Currently, she helps determine what players will fit the culture of the Devils and helps those players develop a successful mentality.
Stein then went on to ask questions about the women's experiences in working in the business of hockey. She asked about challenges they may have faced, female influences on their career, times they may have felt out of place in a male-dominated industry, what they would tell their younger selves as advice, and for some of the panelists, how they balanced having a family while also keeping their career at the top of their priority list.
"My sports influence has been through Billie Jean King," Davis told the crowd about a woman who had an impact on her career and working in sports. "About five years ago, I had the pleasure of helping Billie Jean establish her not-for-profit organization called the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative. Billie started the not-for-profit to help CEOs and corporations begin to think about how to leverage women in a much more intentional way and I helped her establish that. So, as I transitioned into hockey, she was very helpful in helping me understand how the transition from corporate to sport would be."
Stein asked the panelists about what qualities they found important in a leader, whether that leader be a male or a female.
"Being trustworthy and trusting the people that you've brought in as well," Dr. Kimball said about one of the qualities she believes is important in a leader. "You're building a team, so I think it's important that everybody trusts your decisions, knows the decisions that you've made are for kind of the greater good, and it's not just about yourself. And I think being able to trust the people around you and empower them to do their job as well and allowing them to delegate and feel important. I think those things are important. I think a leader also needs to be resilient. They will fail, they will make mistakes, it's not always going to be the right decision, and there's going to be challenges. And I think they need to be able to bounce back and be able to handle stress. So, for me, those are characteristics that leaders need to have."
When asked about challenges that the panelists have maybe faced in their careers and how they overcame those challenges, Caruso said,"As I said, I started as an intern and moved around a little bit, I was an executive assistant and now I hold the title of Vice President. I think a challenge has been trying to get away from the stereotypes of just being an executive assistant or secretary when I'm way more than that. It was difficult for me to realize how big of an asset I am to our organization and overcoming that has allowed me to be way more successful in my role."
After Caruso's comment, Stein talked about how she used to struggle with confidence but found it within herself to be able to stand up and be proud of her thoughts, her work, and what she has the capability to do.
"Often, for women, it's in our head that something can't be done," Davis stated, touching on the fact that it's about collaborating and working together with everyone in the industry. "I often say to young people, we have to really get out of our head because that's often the biggest barrier to our being able to push forward. We can't make it in careers without men as our allies and that's one of the things I learned from Billie Jean early on is that we have to embrace men as partners and allies because men are still in positions of power in most industries. So, if we don't collaborate and build those relationships, then we probably aren't going to go as far as we can."
Davis and Kimball then touched upon having a family as well as a career and the balance between those two equally important things. Davis spent a portion of her early career working in multiple countries while having a family in the United Stated, while Kimball's family is based in Pittsburgh where she commutes to New Jersey at certain times.
"I think it's important as you're choosing where you work that these are things to think about," Dr. Kimball said about finding a place to work that is the right fit for you. "You can either put yourself in a challenging situation or you may say that might not be for me. And something I always tell people is there's going to be obstacles. In any career, job, profession, it doesn't matter if you're male or female, if you have kids, if you're commuting to work, it doesn't matter. But you can't let obstacles become excuses for getting you to be successful, so you embrace the obstacles and you figure out a way."
One of the females in the crowd at the event was Danielle Deresky, who is the Eastside High School Girls' Hockey coach, where she brought out her high school hockey players to the event.
"I think it's incredibly important because I have 9-12 graders here and whether they have gone through the college application process already or whether they're about to, it's really important for them to hear the advice like the women gave about leadership, how to be empathetic, and about confidence," Deresky said after the panel. "They talked about confidence a lot and I think that that's what they need the most. I think it's nice for them to hear the perspective of these successful women to kind of push themselves to what they want to do in the future. What I loved about the girls seeing this is that the women didn't talk about playing hockey, so they know that there are other things that they can do as women in sports and that they can be in that level too. I think it's important for them to know that."
Another attendee was Kelly DiNorcia who is also a woman in the business of hockey. DeNorcia is the Managing Director of Devils Youth Hockey who oversees the youth hockey organization from ages three through eighteen.
"I think it resonated with me a lot with the idea of confidence," DeNorcia said. "It can be intimidating still to come into a room full of men even if they're not necessarily putting you down and making you feel that way, sometimes it's still how you feel. Over the years, coming to understand that I have a voice, I have something to add, and be willing to contribute that to the conversation and it seems that that's a common experience with women in hockey and probably other industries."
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