A Women in Sports panel discussion and networking event hosted by the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on Tuesday packed 250 people onto a basketball court, with the panelists receiving as much wisdom and affirmation as the audience.
The event brought together a variety of people to listen to the group of esteemed women, learn about their journeys and ask questions about their experiences.
Kim Davis, the NHL's executive president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs, and Susan Cohig, the League's executive vice president of club business affairs, were joined in a panel discussion by Jessica Berman, deputy commissioner of the National Lacrosse League; Tara Gutkowski Schwartz, senior vice president of social responsibility at the National Basketball Association; Claudine Lilien, senior vice president of client solutions for FOX Sports; and Deanne Pownall, managing director of partnership marketing at the United States Tennis Association. The discussion was led by Shannon Hogan, Islanders host and reporter for MSG Networks, and Lea del Rosario, senior vice president of human resources for the Islanders.
"It was really just an opportunity to highlight women in sports and really bring attention to some of the accomplishments that are happening," del Rosario said. "We talked about this with the panel that it's still a rarity to see women, particularly women executives, in any area of business, but sports in particular. But that's changing."
Among the topics were how each of the women got into sports, the importance of mentorship, and juggling work and life responsibilities.
Though some of the women had spent their entire careers in sports and others gained much of their professional experience from other industries, all expressed how their mentors, networks and support systems were vital to their success.
Gutkowski Schwartz spoke about being fortunate to work under a high-ranking woman, but that a good network includes men as well.
"In some ways it's natural, and in some ways it is going to someone and saying, 'I'm really interested in the type of work you're doing. I see how you conduct yourself, this is not something that's natural to me. Can we grab coffee?'" she said. "It's also always being aware of the people that maybe are a little different from you but are going to help you move forward and keep growing."
Lilien said advocates are also crucial.
"I think it's really helpful if you can find someone [who] will also help champion you internally," she said. "So it's not just the advice of what to do, but they're going around to people who are the decision makers in your world, and helping to sell you through. The more advocates you have at work the better, and the further you'll get along within your job."
In terms of life balance, all of the women expressed in some way that they had to compromise or miss out on important things with their families at some point, and that they had to learn how to accept failure and say no. But happiness, they said, comes from being self-aware, grounded, and able to prioritize.
"Those things are fluid," Berman said. "Sometimes you need to replenish and sometimes you feel like you can go strong. I think being conscious of that and attentive to that is the key, at least for me."
Davis said these events are as beneficial to the panelists as they are to the people who come to hear them speak.
"I think what you always learn on these panels is everybody's going through the same thing, whether they have a 5-year-old [child] or a 15-year-old or a 25-year-old, either they've been there or they are there or they are going to be there, so creating that network is really important so people know, 'I'm not crazy. It's not just me.' That this is something that you go through," Davis said.
In terms of the future, Davis told the crowd that in a recent interview, she predicted the future of women in sports would include more women of color, but inclusion would have to be deliberate.
"We are talking about the intersection of race, ethnicity, and gender that we have to be intentional about it," she said, "and so I predict that we're going to be much more intentional."
Seeing how many women, men and people of color turned out was a big boost to everyone involved in putting on the event.
"The turnout is incredible, and it just speaks to everything we talked about with the appetite for women to work in sports and where the opportunities are and where they can connect," Cohig said. "Every time I see an event like this, it just makes me so hopeful for the future of women in sports because the opportunities are endless."