4 lessons I learned working in a male-dominated industry
When I was getting started in the sports broadcasting industry, I interviewed TSN host Kara Wagland for an article I was working on. I asked her: “What is the biggest obstacle you have encountered in your career?”
“The biggest obstacle that I have encountered working in sports is that no one ever gives you the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “Being a female, most men assume you aren’t knowledgeable and you have to work to prove yourself. It can be frustrating, but at the same time that sort of thing motivates me to work harder.”
I asked her that question back in 2015, and two years later her answer finally makes sense to me. While we are seeing more females in sports broadcasting, it is still a bit of a boy’s club.
There are plenty of lessons I have learned from being part of that boy’s club – here are four that can help women in any male-dominated profession.
Always be prepared
Erin Andrews is considerably one of the most famous female sports broadcasters, but she had a long road to the top. In an interview with E! Online, Andrews admitted that when she covered the Atlanta Braves, she struggled.
“I sucked. I was a deer in headlights. I was mispronouncing baseball player’s names. I learned I wasn’t ready for national television,” she said.
Unsurprisingly, TBS did not renew her contract. She would, however, get another shot (with ESPN), and this time, you better believe she came prepared.
“All that travel and staying up to date on stats, players, behind the scenes twist and turns is way more than a full-time job. It’s a lifestyle,” she said.
I had a similar situation when I landed my first sports job hosting Leafs TV. I was beyond nervous for my first show. This was the moment I had dreamed of my entire life, what if I messed it up? Well I did, nerves took over, and I mispronounced the name of a player. It took all my strength not to cry on TV.
My time at Leafs TV was short, but like Andrews at TBS, it taught me an extremely valuable lesson: always be over prepared. Every job since then I would spend hours upon hours the night before studying. I would write notes on proper pronunciations, stats, back stories, etc. I never got a name wrong again.
When you work in an industry that is male dominated, this is the kind of preparation that’s needed. People expect you to fail, so it is up to you to prove them wrong.
Fight to break down the barriers
Beth Mowins recently made history when she became the first woman to call play-by-play on Monday Night Football. It was a breakthrough for female sports broadcasters who had so often been stuck on the sidelines or in the studio.
After the announcement, Mowins told Bleacher Report: “I think part of it is that play-by-play is not a role a lot of women have sought out. For years, more women were steered toward the studio or toward being a reporter. But that’s hopefully one of the things we are changing: that it’s OK to be ambitious and do things that are out of the norm if that’s the route you want to take. There are opportunities for women to fill those roles.”
I can relate to Mowins. When I was hired by my first major sports broadcast network, I was the only female working at that station. I quickly realized that if I wanted to grow, I needed to break down some barriers and be proactive; opportunities weren’t going to be handed to me. I had to continuously ask my boss for more responsibility, chances on air, and writing opportunities.
In order to break down the barriers between men and women in a professional setting, it’s important that women are verbal. If you want a different role, or more responsibility, you need to go after it. No one is just going to hand it to you on a silver platter.
The sad truth is, women in the sports broadcasting industry still face harassment. In an interview with The Gridstone, sports reporter Trenni Kusnierek recalled several occasions where she was treated differently than her male counterparts. There would be times players would ask for her number, or drop their towels while she was in the locker room.
Kusnierek learned quickly how to handle those situations in a professional manner.
“I have no problem saying, ‘That’s inappropriate.’ My biggest piece of advice for young women in the business is to carry yourself the way you want to be treated. If you want to be treated as a professional, do your homework, dress professional, act professionally. You’re not in the business to get a husband, you’re there to do a job. That line gets blurred and that’s why we’re kept behind.”
I have been in similar situations and at the beginning of my career I would react with a nervous giggle. Over the years, though, I’ve learned how to handle situations more professionally. I was once asked, in the middle of an interview, for my phone number. I politely told the athlete I was here to do my job, and would appreciate if we could focus on the questions. I interviewed him several times after, and he never again asked for my number. If you want to be respected at your job, you need to be willing to stick up for yourself in a polite and professional manner.
Develop a thick skin
Women in the sports broadcasting world have come a long way, but unfortunately there is still a long road ahead of us. Who can forget the Just Not Sports video where men read comments made about sports reporters Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro to their face. These included the following tweets: “One of the players should beat you to death with a hockey stick” and “I hope your dog gets hit by a car.”
We live in a day and age where it is so easy to attack people online. Working in a field that is mostly male, there will be critics, but it’s important to ignore the negativity, and focus on your work and your career.
Being part of the boy’s club known as sports journalism, I have not only become a stronger reporter, but I have become a stronger person. I have learned to not be afraid to stick up for myself, to go after what I want, and to fight for more responsibility. The same goes for any job. If you are prepared, professional, and willing to work hard for what you want, you will be able to overcome the obstacles.
Mia Gordon is a former professional tennis player and a sports broadcaster. Over the course of six years, she has worked for TSN, CBC Olympics, and the Sun News Network. She is now a host, reporter, and producer for Sportsnet and the National Lacrosse League.
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