Play Ball!

Play Ball

My senior in high school I made a deal with my friend Diane: she would give volleyball a try and I would give basketball a try. Anyone with a bit more wisdom than the two of us would have seen immediately how this was going to work out. My friend was short and very close to the floor – actually the perfect build for a point guard. I was tall and gangly – a perfect ball striker. Or center.

She hated volleyball. I LOVED basketball. Under the tutelage of the coolest teach in school (a young handsome male teacher) we ended up finishing in the championship games, and I ended up with a basketball emblem for my letter sweater.

We both chose Seattle University for college. I went there because they gave me a scholarship – I’m not sure what Diane’s reasons were but the school is forever changed because of her. Her passion for basketball was much deeper rooted than mine, so when she found out that the university only offered an intramural basketball team for women she was outraged.   They used pennies for uniforms and dribbled the lopsided balls rejected by the men’s program. Completely unacceptable in her estimation.

Now, as luck would have it, the honors program I was in was headed by Sister Rosalie Trainer. It seems Sister Trainer was also the Head of women’s athletics. Given her advanced age of at least fifty at the time, the thought of progress seemed a bit hopeless to us. But I used my academic “connection” with her to gain an audience for Diane and I, wherein we presented our absolutely PERFECT pitch on why SU should have a varsity women’s basketball team.

Sister Trainer was a total buzz kill. She completely disagreed. First she pronounced that there weren’t enough women interested. And besides, even if there were, there was no one to coach and no money to pay for one should we dig up someone interested.

This all happened in 1975. What also happened in 1975 was the first failure of a Seattle School District levy in ages. Schools were forced to cut programs and lay off teachers. The young ones without seniority were first to go. Which left our handsome basketball coach from Ballard High School magically unemployed. Diane and I took our pitch on the road. When I imagine us making our case of how great it would be for him if he threw in with us, I’m not sure how he could have said no. He agreed to coach the SU Varsity Women’s Basketball Team. For Free.

Sister Trainer didn’t have much left to protest about, with the exception of her belief that there was no interest. We made her a deal – we would have a meeting and see if enough people showed up to make the scheme viable. If not, we would go away.

More than 60 women came. She was surprised, but kept her part of the bargain. And that’s how the Seattle University Women’s Basketball Team came into existence.

 

 

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Dancing on the Glass Ceiling – Part II

(When we left off last time, our Well-Heeled CEO (a.k.a. me) was having a conversation with the chairman of the board)

“The board has directed me to offer you the position of CEO….” The chairman  was saying,

“…with a six-month trial period to see if it is working out.”

It took me about two seconds to identify and analyze the risks:

Risk 1 – give up my currently well-paid, well-defined executive job for a trial job whereby my success would be based on the whim of a room full of old men. Risk 2 – accept risk 1 while assuming the responsibilities of a turnaround, knowing that significant impact wouldn’t be measurable in six months.

I laughed out loud.

The chairman was shocked. I guess the board figured I would be so honored at the offer that I would throw my common sense out the window. So I posed a question to the chairman: “Just how, exactly, does the board intend to make this six-month determination?” His enlightened expression was enough to show me that he understood my laughter. So I laid down my terms.

“Here’s how we do it. Give me my goals. Get out of my way. Fire me if a screw it up.”

So they did, and they kind of did, and when the time came I left on my own. But that is getting ahead of the story…..

What’s the point? I have no doubt that I received a conditional offer because I am female; I can’t imagine any group of men extending such an insulting offer to another man. A trial CEO position? Really? How on earth could that even work? My apologies if you are tired of hearing this, but there is still a significant amount of gender inequity in corporate America and I think it is criminal for us to pretend otherwise. Ask any woman trying to break the glass in financial services or tech, just to name two particularly notorious industries.

I have lots more stories to tell if you are interested in hearing them. If you’re not, don’t tune in to The Well-Heeled CEO.