Addressing The Need for Diversity in Leadership with Patti Phillips of Women Leaders in College Sports

Today’s podcast is a little different. I’m sharing the audio from a live taping of The Chief Customer Officer Human Duct Tape Show that I recorded with Patti Phillips of Women’s Leaders in College Sports on LinkedIn. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn for resources to help guide you as we face this pandemic together!

“We need diversity in leadership, all leaders can’t look the same and sound the same,” says Patti Phillips, CEO of Women’s Leaders in College Sports, in our recent LinkedIn Live conversation. Patti, who’s spent her entire career in the business of sports, chats with me about the importance of women empowerment and leadership, and the ability to build the confidence of the student-athletes that she works with.

Patti and I discuss the need for diversity in leadership, and she shares the experience she’s had while working in sports, an industry that’s notoriously male-dominated, and the need for more age and ethnicity representations in leadership positions. Additionally, Patti talks about how her team, who relies heavily on in-person meetings and interactions, has been able to lift one another up during the pandemic.

Address Unconscious Bias in Leadership

Diversity in the workplace is a conversation that continues to pop up in the news and in organizations themselves. Patti believes that “young people need to see all sorts of people that look like them. […] There are all sorts of areas that we need to diversify. And not just women, we need gender diversity, age diversity in leadership. So it’s been a real struggle. There are not enough women coaches, there are not enough women coaching women. And I think overall, when we do that, not only in collegiate sports, but in general, I think companies, organizations, and quite frankly, our economy and culture will actually be a lot better off for it.”

I think Patti specifically hit the nail on the head when she said, “We’ve got the presidents and chancellors , the people making the hires need to understand these unconscious biases and make sure they open the door to new types of leadership.” Not too long ago, I wrote about the importance of ‘checking your bias at the door,’ paired with hiring emotionally intelligent people. As leaders, you have to understand how critical it is to build a company of inclusivity and human reception. Unconscious bias exists in everything we do, but that just means we have to work harder to listen to feedback from our colleagues and even society at large.

People who do the hiring need to understand inherent unconscious biases and make sure they open the door to new types of leadership in their organizations. @PattiPhillips10, CEO @WomenLeadersCS #leadership Click To Tweet

Lift Each Other Up

Patti has had help from other women in her life and has also seen her own students being encouraged and mentored by other women. In our conversation, we address the “scarcity mindset” that initially pervaded the workplace among women, regarding getting a seat at the table, and now we see how times have changed. Women are at the table and they’re creating space for others.

Patti shares this anecdote in which she mentions that although most of her students have had positive and negative experiences with both men and women, it was encouraging for her to also hear that many of them have had women help them in their careers.

In continuing to promulgate the message that women are beneficial to the leadership process, Patti and her team painted “strong women lift each other up” on the side of the Women’s Leaders in College Sports building. It’s a message that’s a prominent throughline in the organization’s purpose and values.

Lift Each Other Up
image: The Daktronics Experience

Strong women lift each other up. — @PattiPhillips10 CEO @WomenLeadersCS #leadership . Click To Tweet

Check-in on Your Team During Uncertain Times

When it comes to leading during uncertain times, Patti says, “I think it’s doubling down on what we know are super important leadership qualities, and I think the number one is communication. Right now, when we’re virtual, and there are so many unknowns, people are feeling isolated and unsure. So communication is huge. And I also think right now, doubling down on your mission, and this is what organizations have had to do. What is it that we were built for what we’re supposed to be doing?”

Similar to other leaders that I’ve interviewed recently, Patti mentions that “your team is your most important asset,” so she’s spent a lot of time communicating with her team, ensuring that they’re okay during the pandemic because “we’re not okay, if the team isn’t okay. […] Controlling the controllable has been something we’ve tried to focus on as it relates to our mission and what is it that we do.”

What Do You Know Now That You Wish You Knew Then? 

Patti says:

“Understanding the compound effect of everything we do in our jobs every day, how it impacts our career later, how our thoughts and wordsthings that we take for granted, what we say and do every day, has a compound effect of how our life unfolds. And so we always can make a change any day, any moment to change our future by changing our thoughts and words. And I become more and more aware of that. I wish I would have known that a long, long time ago as well.”

About Patti Phillips

Patti Phillips has served as the CEO of the Women Leaders in College Sports (formerly known as NACWAA) since 2010. Prior to joining the association, Phillips served as the executive director of the Women’s Intersport Network, based in Kansas City, Missouri, for 11 years. Additionally, she was a color analyst for ESPN, FOX Sports Midwest, Sooner Sports, and Metro Sports television broadcasts of collegiate women’s basketball and volleyball games.

Patti also leads the Women Leaders Performance Institute, an initiative that supports leadership development in all industries through the lens of sport. The Institute is designed to ignite and foster leadership potential through envisioning, coaching, and training on how to best achieve an organization’s peak performance.

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