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I Want Your Job Podcast

Empowering Women In Sports

With Patti Phillips

Written by: Jim Cavale - December 10, 2020

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Women Leaders in College Sports CEO Patti Phillips shares stories from the jobs and experiences that led her to her current role, offering insights into the importance of branding and messaging, work ethic, networking, and the potential for new opportunities through community collaboration.

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Interview Highlights


Patti shares stories from her first coaching job right out of college, and how the mentorship of Ottawa University’s Steve Hill impacted her basketball coaching ability.


Patti talks about the transition from coaching into other roles (first with the NCAA, and then as a color analyst with the Kansas City Sports Commission), and how it was the jobs after coaching that gave her some of the best insight into all of the moving parts of athletic programs. On being a color commentator: “It’s like doing a research project before every game. And so, you’ve got to do all the research: those that do it as a full-time job, you know, you’re kind of up on it. But when you have another full time job (which I did), and it’s kind of a part-time thing, it’s much harder to stay abreast of everything. It was a lot of homework, a lot of talking to a lot of people. But I did love it, I loved the energy of it, and yeah you’re right: it really did give me a broader understanding of sports the impact they have within an athletic department with fan engagement, all those kinds of facets that certainly have helped me in my role here.”


Patti talks about mentors that helped her along her early career path: Steve Hill (“He literally taught me to be a coach”), the NCAA’s Janet Justice (“Janet really opened my world, quite frankly, and…gave me the foundation for a lot of the work we’re doing now”). Patti also talks about her friendship with Anne St. Peter, who works in digital marketing, and has been a central part of building the Women Leaders in College Sports brand. Besides mentors who she’s worked with in person, Patti also shares her list of influential authors: Brené Brown, Adam Grant, Simon Sinek, John Maxwell, among others.


Patti shares a lot of the history behind Women Leaders, starting with 2019’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of the organization, and including pivotal moments such as major name changes and events in college sports history that impacted women in college athletics.


Patti describes how Women Leaders in College Sports has been very deliberate in its messaging to ensure that the branding and mission of the organization are communicated clearly to its community. She also talks about the realities of being a nonprofit, and how that impacts their choices and the platforms they choose to pursue.


Patti talks about what it means to inspire women across multiple industries.


Patti discusses how to measure “success” in intercollegiate athletics, both the success of an athletic director (male or female) in their role, but more specifically to the Women Leaders mission, the success of women being placed in leadership roles or making an impact in the workplace.


Patti shares one important story from sports that impacted her the most. She explains that it’s not just one story that has been impactful, noting that many of them happened a while back and laid the foundation for what’s happening today: Billie Jean King vs Bobby Riggs, Title IX, Kathrine Switzer (the first woman to run the Boston marathon).


Patti’s advice for young women who want to pursue a career in sports.

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More episodes of the “I Want Your Job” podcast to be announced soon! Stay tuned, and subscribe to be one of the first to get updates about this new podcast.


Jim Cavale: Welcome to another episode of “I Want Your Job”, the podcast, where we break down the stories of some of the most influential leaders in all of college and pro sports. I’m your host, Jim Cavale, the founder and CEO of INFLCR, the company that puts this together. My team has done an amazing job here in season two now of this podcast of bringing you some of the best stories in sports. In today’s is no different. It’s Patti Phillips. Patti is the CEO of Women Leaders in College Sports, and she is doing something that is so important for all of us to recognize, embrace and be a part of when it comes to the movement of women in leadership roles in all sports at all levels, it’s vital to the future of sport. And Patti is doing so many great things to make that happen. But she’s had a story that, like most of our guests, is very multidimensional and it’s brought her to where she is today. So without further ado, let’s go to my interview with Patti Phillips. 

So, Patti, with somebody like yourself that has been so impactful in your career in sports, I’ve got to start with a question I ask most folks in your seat, and that is, when did you realize that your first really wanted to be working in this industry? 

Patti Phillips: Well, let’s see if I can say when I was in the womb, possibly, but I remember always being active and so, you know, that then translated to always playing sports. I mean, I was one of those kids that was always outside, climbing trees, running around. I had an older brother I used to play with. So part of it starts young when you just love being active. And then that’s that then rolls into you, loves competing. So I you know, I got on teams when I could and then, by the way, I don’t think I really got to participate in teams, until I was I think I was in fifth grade, competitively, but then I fell in love with that experience of being on a team and basketball was my sport. So once I really got into the team sport thing, that’s when I was like, God, I love this and I wanted to be a coach. So my first dream that I remember was wanting to be a high school English teacher and basketball coach. And it was because of my love of participating. And I think because seeing myself kind of set a goal and hit it or just growing in it, you know, when you were on a team or when you’re working on a sport, you really see your progressions. And I was fascinated by that. And I think that’s when it first hit me that I wanted to, when you say be in the business of sport the early years for me it was coaching because I didn’t know there was a business of sport outside of that, quite frankly. And then, of course, one thing led to another. But I think that’s how it started. 

Jim Cavale: Well, you talked about coaching being a big starting point for you. You coached basketball and you started at a young age, at age of twenty two years old, and you turned a losing team in Ottawa University into a regional powerhouse, first ever national ranking in program history, etc.. Talk about that journey, because, you know, it’s one thing to be a coach, but it’s another to coach folks that are around your age or are just a little bit younger. That’s not an easy thing to do. 

Patti Phillips: Yeah, that was that was tough in the early years, and honestly, that decision was interesting because my dream job at a college, I got offered a high school English teaching and basketball coaching job. And then this kind of came up at Ottawa University at the same time. And I I tell people a lot that didn’t just obviously fall in my lap. The athletic director at Ottawa University knew me, so he had been a high school boys coach at O’Hara where I went to high school. And I think that’s a really important message, particularly as you’re getting your foot in the door in these jobs, because really, was I qualified to be a college coach at twenty two? No, but they they weren’t paying anything. It was the women’s program. I hate to say that they wouldn’t have hired a twenty two year old guy to coach the guy’s team. And so but I thought, well I can always go back to high school, I’ll do this and work on my masters at the time. And so one thing leads to another. But yeah, that you don’t know what you don’t know. 

I probably didn’t know how unqualified I was when I took it, but I’m a really hard worker. And, you know, the athletic director who hired me was also the men’s basketball coach. His name was Steve Hill. He was a great mentor of mine. And one story I’ll tell you, you know, I you have to be a learner. I’m a big believer in a growth mindset. And so I also knew the only really skills I had as a coach were the skills I had received from my coach. So to expand that, I started to go into coaching clinics. But also I watched Steve Hill, the men’s coach, really closely. He used to let me sneak into the locker room at halftime and before games and listen to how he gave half pregame and halftime speeches. And I would learn how to coach and teach in the moment, different from how my coach did. And my coach was fine in college. But it again, it was only one experience and those were real learning and growth moments for me with Steve Hill, who was a great mentor, and I would sit behind his bench at games. We used a lot of their plays, quite frankly. I’d watch his practices. So while I was unqualified, I think what he saw on me and what I know of myself with, I’m a really hard worker and a learner. And so I just was taking in information from any place I could get it. I didn’t kind of go into it thinking I knew everything. As a twenty two year old head coach, I had a lot to learn and I did, and Steve Hill was a great mentor of mine. 

Jim Cavale: I love that and you also did a lot of broadcasting, and so, you know, I think one thing that’s really interesting when you look at folks who are very successful in sports is they are a jack of all trades, master of none. They’re diverse in their skill set, multidimensional in their skill set and the ability to coach, but then go into the media world, be a color analyst for ESPN, Fox Sports, Midwest Sooners Sports. I mean, that is something that and not just for women’s basketball, but for volleyball, too, really gives you a broad spectrum understanding of the sports business, because obviously the funding of media is the same and a lot of cases as the funding of sports. And that’s, you know, brands that want to be in front of all the eyeballs of those fans who really care about these games, to talk about being in the media business, being a color analyst. 

Patti Phillips: Yeah, you know it actually, and now that you mention it, it really did help give me information I needed to get this job. And by the way, so I coached for eight years and then worked at the NCAA for a couple of years. And it was at that time before the next job, which was for the Kansas City Sports Commission. I was on the women’s side there for 11 years before where I am here now at Women Leaders in College Sports. But it was during those 11 years that went for KC that I was a color analyst and, you know, I was not in coaching, was wanting to go a different direction, but still loved it. And so, you know, I kind of cold called someone at Metro Sports, the small station in Kansas City. They were, I should say, small station. They did a lot of high school and local sports. And then that’s actually kind of enabled me to go bigger and broader into the Big 12 and some other of the media markets. But during that time, it was really interesting. I got to know the coaches. I got to know the SWAs, I got to know some of the SIDs. That’s when I really learned kind of the scope of an athletic department, because when I was coaching in Ottawa it was an NAIA school. And it’s very different and it was great. I loved it. I taught some classes, coached, we didn’t have recruiting rules. I recruited every night. And that was part of why I was ready to make a pivot. But so I never thought of it that way. But I’m glad you pointed out it really did give me more of a broader understanding of how these athletic departments, quite frankly, and programs work, which helped me certainly help me, particularly in the people that I knew as I transitioned into this job. 

But, you know, every coach loves to be able to then leave the sideline where you have all the pressure, and all you have to do is put a headset on and, you know, and then after the game, you’re not losing sleep over who wins or loses. Although I will say, in fairness to all of our colleagues out there in media, it’s not that easy. It was really hard. It’s like doing a research project before every game. And so, you know, you gotta do all the research. Those that do it as a full time job, you know, you’re kind of up on it. But when you have another full time job, which I did, and it’s kind of a part time thing, it’s much harder to stay abreast of everything. And so it was a lot of homework, a lot of talking to a lot of people. But I did love it. I love the energy of it. And yeah, you’re right. It really did give me a broader understanding of sports and the impact they have within an athletic department with fan engagement. All those kind of facets then certainly have helped me in my role here for sure. 

Jim Cavale: You talked earlier about mentors, who have been some of your biggest mentors along the way, especially in those early years. 

Patti Phillips: Well, Steve Hill was probably the first person I would describe as a mentor. That’s the guy that hired me and he was the men’s coach in Ottawa, and it literally taught me how to be a coach just by watching him. But he also spent a lot of time with me. And then one of my great mentors was the woman that hired me at the NCAA. I had cold called her for kind of an informational meeting. And we ended up, she ended up hiring me. Her name was Janet Justice, and she used to run education outreach at the NCAA before the move to Indy. She’d been a long time employee there and an attorney. And I learned so much from Janet about social justice issues. That’s when I really kind of learned this whole women’s leadership. It was then when I looked back and realized kind of at Ottawa the salary I had. I didn’t have assistant coaches. You know, they hired me. I was also the RD in the dorm, I was the SID, I had like nine jobs. And that’s not how it was on the men’s side. At the time, I didn’t notice that. I was just thrilled to have the job. It wasn’t until I worked at the NCAA and looked back and was like, wow, now I kind of see that difference. I learned a lot about Title Nine at the time. Janet really opened my world, quite frankly, and again gave me the foundation for a lot of the work that we’re doing now. She’s still a very dear friend. Talk to her all the time. And she helped me transition into the Kansas City Sports Commission and help me with interviewing tips. 

So those were the two earliest adopters, I’d say industry wide. And then there’s a lot of folks in Kansas City that helped in the transition here. One is my very best friend who runs a marketing agency. And I think marketing and messaging is so important and anything you do and I know you know that. And so Anne St. Peter really helped us build this brand. She helped me and the early team here build this brand that she certainly helps us sustain it and is a great partners of ours at Global Prairie. But I have so many and honestly a lot of mentors that I don’t know. I mean, I’m a I’m an avid reader, a Brene Brown’s work, I read Adam Grant, Simon Sinek, John Maxwell. I mean, I do think people can have mentors and models that they don’t interact with all the time. And we certainly advise our women and folks involved with our organization to really think about that. It’s great to have those folks you can interact with and talk about your personal experience, but you can learn a lot from other people’s journeys. And so I certainly take advantage of that as well. 

Jim Cavale: Yeah, and it’s amazing. I always think about a lot of the authors and readings that I’ve consumed in my career are from folks who aren’t on Earth any longer. And it’s kind of cool to think about the legacy they’ve left behind by leaving those texts and those writings and that wisdom behind for people like you and I to consume and have an impact on others with along with it impacting ourselves. So that’s really cool. When you talk about Janet, who obviously is somebody you do know and you talked about how she helped raise awareness for you to really come up with what has become this amazing organization, Women Leaders in Sports. I want you to talk about the organization and just the origin story, especially thinking about the beginning and really where it’s gotten to today. 

Patti Phillips: Well, it’s ironic that you’re asking me about the kind of origin story in history now, because we just came out of our 40th anniversary year. And actually last February, a year ago now, we launched a 40th anniversary website and it’s actually living on our website. So anyone that wants more information can go to that. And we highlighted all of our past leaders, executive directors. We’ve been through three name changes. And so it’s been a journey. I mean, the organization was founded 40 years ago and it was very different at that time. That was a different time that we all lived in. But it came right after Title Nine had gone through. And really women were trying to find their footing in a changing landscape in intercollegiate athletics. Because before Title Nine, women were very involved in AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) and had their own championships. And then when the NCAA brought the women’s championship within, a lot changed for women at that time. And so women that were the athletic directors, those departments were kind of merged, some say overtaken by other departments, a lot of those women lost their jobs. 

And so at that time, the organization was called NACWAA, or no actually, at the beginning it was CCWA. I should know this, actually. We just went through this. But it and so it was women came together to really kind of have a platform with the NCAA and to create committees and to make sure they had a voice. And so it was really an advocacy group to keep women involved in intercollegiate athletics. Then it evolved and the name evolved and it became NACWAA. The National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators was very strong for years. And we’re still I would say primarily, it was a connection organization, but also an advocacy organization, still. And that was back when the NCAA had voting at their convention and was not the three divisions the way it is now or it wasn’t the separation of the three divisions the way it is now. And so the women would get together at NACWAA and figure out how they were going to vote at the NCAA convention and how to position women for these committees and really, really important work. And then when I came on in 2010, I think that important work had probably gone through its cycle. And so when I came on, it was really a time of trying to reenvision and reengage and reignite what CCWA and NACWAA been for a kind of a new time. It was 2010, and so, you know we really had to reinvigorate the brand, had to bring people back into the fold, men and women, quite frankly. 

And the membership had gone through its highs and then had declined. And listen, that’s normal for any organization and then certainly a nonprofit membership organization. So, we worked really hard to reestablish ourselves in the industry. And then as we began to do that, about five or six years in, I realized and I’m in ten years now, I’m 10 years in now, that the name really wasn’t reflecting who we were anymore. And our role on the big word person on a big language person. And as we had really been championing women leaders and talking about leadership, you know, during that time, we had changed our mission statement, quite frankly, from the “premier advocacy organization” to the “premier leadership organization”. And that was a big shift for us. We believe that we advocate by advancing leaders, those involved with advocacy organizations. And that’s a really tough place to be in, particularly when you’re a membership organization. So we’re a leadership organization now. And how we advocate is by helping women and advancing women, and we believe when leaders are in place that’s when change occurs. So after we kind of changed the mission and reestablished ourselves as a leadership organization, we had conversations about was the name reflecting who we were and what we were doing at this time. 

So 2017. After a two year process, we changed the name to Women Leaders in College Sports, which is more reflective of who we are and what we do. And you don’t have to explain it. You know, we also got away from the acronym, we don’t use the acronym. I think when people shortened it, they say Women Leaders, but it’s much a more powerful name. And the word leader is much more powerful than administrator and it reflects our membership. So that’s kind of the short version of the arc and the journey. And like I said, we do have all this documented on our website and it’s really cool. The 40th anniversary kind of website, you could visit it to get more information. It’s super cool. 

Jim Cavale: That’s awesome. I think, you know, just the stuff you’re talking about with messaging and internally as you lead your organization and externally as you market your organization, clarity and communication wording, branding is so important. And a lot of people, I think, well marketing is just a part of my business. It’s the front part of your business and it’s the back part of your business and it’s the middle part of your business. And so I love that you have that philosophy and how you think about everything from the top down with Women Leaders. I think, you know, a lot’s evolved beyond the acronyms and the name. A lot’s evolved when it comes to the traditional and nontraditional strategies, new staff, the things you’ve done media wise to really get this organization out to the forefront of sports. And I just like to hear what’s really changed since 2010 when you’ve taken over this role all the way to the present and how you use these marketing principles to effect this change. 

Patti Phillips: Well, before I get to that, I want to go back to the brand because, you know, I should have been more explicit than that. You’re right. Your brand is everything. It is how people perceive you when you’re not in the room, as you know. And so we spend a lot of time making sure we were talking about who are we internally and how are we living that out. So when we changed our logo, when I got the job, and it was still NACWAA, we did change the logo to the flame which was critical because our women and we knew this because I was a NACWAA member, you know, really we’re lighting the way and passing the torch in so many ways. So pulling that into what we were doing was really, really important. So now carrying that onto as you’re talking about, carrying the brand forward, I’d love to say that we’ve been on the forefront of media kind of trends, as you might have alluded to. And I don’t think we really have been, I try really hard. In fact I want to talk to you afterwards so you can give me some tips on this. It’s really hard to stay in front of the curve in those ways, especially when you’re a nonprofit. 

I mean, we haven’t had the luxury of spending a lot of dollars on marketing. We’re lucky that we have an outstanding local partner here. As we mentioned, Global Prairie, that that does a lot for us, really does a lot that we could not pay for, quite frankly, but Anne has taught me to keep it simple in a way. So, you know, we really try to figure out where we are going to spend our time and energy as it relates to our brand. But we also know if we aren’t living it every day as a staff, if we aren’t communicating the same thing out every day, and if our members don’t know what that is so that they are communicating that, then it all falls apart, doesn’t matter how much money you spend. And so we spent years on that, just making sure we are redeveloping the community and constantly talking about our message that women support each other. We do support each other. There’s room for everybody at the table, changing the narrative around women and leaders. And so with that, you know, other things kind of evolved organically. I think we’ve been doing the podcast, I think three years now. But we talked about that obviously for a year and a half before we could get it off the ground. And so that’s been another medium. 

You know, we’ve always tried to be in the mix with the social platforms, its so interesting. Our industry is so Twitter heavy. Other industries are not when we look at the metrics. So we just we try to follow that and enhance other areas where we can. And we have the other platforms, obviously. But other industries don’t use Twitter at all. I mean, intercollegiate athletics is a huge deal. So we have tried to track on those things. But I think the obvious one is kind of the virtual learning and building out what we can to stay really just in pace with the changing times as far as how people are consuming information. That being said, I’m a huge believer in the in-person experience. And so not only have we not changed or gotten away from our in-person experiences, we’ve enhanced those. And a lot of other organizations choose not to do that. And that’s great. We are an organization built on community, and connection and support. And so those in-person additions to what we’re doing virtually are critical. And we spend, quite frankly, a lot of money on our in-person events because of that. 

Our national convention every year, this year we’re in Boston, is a huge deal and it looks like a corporation is putting it on. It does not look like a nonprofit or industry convention. It’s a it’s a big deal and its a splash event. And that’s important. It’s important for our brand. Our brand is one of excellence in everything we do, we’ll raise a bar and raise an eyebrow. If we can’t do it that way, then we don’t do it. But what’s been interesting for us, as you mentioned, is, you know, so what are the trends as far as virtual and these other modalities with media folks are kind of tuning into to get their information? And honestly, we are trying to keep up as best we can in those ways. It’s just it is kind of where the game is going right now, but it’s super expensive and it’s changing all the time. So it’s hard to know. It’s hard to be on the cutting edge in that in that way. 

Jim Cavale: When you think about women and not just sports, but any industry, you know, I personally am blessed to have a wife who is a co-founder with me in a business that she’s the CEO of. And the journey of starting that business I got to see her road of building a tech business, raising money, all the stuff that you have to do from day one to actually building a brand and generating revenue and raising capital, all that. Versus my journeys over the past three businesses I’ve built and it really raised an awareness in me, that totally changed my paradigm of how I look at a lot of things. And I have daughters. So that’s also had an impact on my life. So a lot of awareness has been raised for me not being a woman, seeing what it’s like for women and a lot of different situations, not just in sports, but I still have a long way to go. I think I can grow in my perspective. And then I think a lot of the women that I’m blessed to have as a part of my team and to be around in the industry and the business I’m in have have helped inspire me, and I’ve watched them inspire other women. And then I look at what you’re doing and you’re inspiring women across multiple industries, I think, with what you’re doing, because you’re not only affecting and impacting women in sports, but those women are around many other women that they’re impacting as well. So I want to unpack that. That’s a that’s a big thing to think about at a really crucial time in society. And so what is it what does it mean to you to inspire women, not just in the sports industry, but across all industries? And what type of advancement and development do you hope to see when it comes to all of this? 

Patti Phillips: Well, women have a shared experience as it relates to leadership and leading, period. No matter what industry they’re in. And, you know, I think women in the more male dominated fields technology would be one, sports obviously, a lot of times and corporate women will say this, that it is sometimes worse than in other spaces. But overall, the experiences are the same. It’s much harder. And, you know, it’s this paradigm. It’s this culture that we’ve been in. And so it’s just a time factor. And that change doesn’t happen overnight. It changes with great guys and husbands and dads like you that see what’s happening and that want to be part of the change. Whatever we’re doing here with women leaders and I am proud, I know we’re making a difference, we could not do it without our male champions, without guys like you. And that’s the thing. It’s just been for years. It was men that went to work and one women stayed home. And so as that paradigm has been changing, now it takes a long time for the substructure and all of the paradigms underneath it to change. And what we always say is we’re trying to make a cultural shift here. Which does not happen overnight, does not happen fast enough for any of us, like we all want to be way further ahead. 

And where we are, some women have great stories. They’re like, oh, my God, I never experienced any bias. I had a great experience throughout all my professional career. And that’s great, for every one of those there’s nine others that have either opted out, that have been victims of some type of harassment or that have been bullied in one way or another. And so we need to get to where those numbers are changing. And we are. And again, I think we’re all moving in the right direction. And I do think that number one men are the key here, a huge key. And it’s you know, it’s just kind of overcoming now what were kind of years of unconscious bias. But, you know, there’s guys like you that it’s not unconscious anymore. You’re kind of seeing it and you want to kind of help. And all that makes a huge difference. The other factor is women. We have to step up. So we have created a movement and we are the change makers. And we tell our members, the women that can lead and are leading are making a huge difference. They’re changing their cultures of their athletic departments. You know, they’re allowing children to be brought in so that women can raise families and be part of these jobs. And they’re changing the work life balance kind of issues because they’re in the leadership positions. And so it really takes everybody we all have to be doing it together. But it is important because, you know, it’s not just for the women. It creates a better workplace for everybody when there’s more diversity in leadership. And, you know, and we’re not the only organization that’s doing it. But but you’re right. I do think it transcends. So what we’re doing and the impact we’re having, isn’t just stopping at the end of intercollegiate athletics? 

In fact, we’re actually now working more and more. You know, we’re working with pro sports. Pro Leagues are dealing with the same thing. We’ve seen a lot of media around some of the women in coaching, which is great in the pro leagues. And so we work we’re doing some work with both Major League Baseball and the NFL and those arenas kind of coaching and helping those women that are stepping into those roles. And we’re doing more work with our corporate partners. So we’re actually ,we have a program now or an arm called the Women Leaders Performance Institute. And we’re taking some of our learnings we’ve had over the years through our leadership programs and just the information we have through consulting, conversations, coaching, teaching with women in sports, a really hard arena. And so we’ve kind of put all that together and it’s very transferable, obviously. And and so we can teach kind of leadership through the lens of sport, not just for women, for men and women, but the conversations for men, quite frankly, are different. They just are. And that’s OK. It’s not bad. There’s instances where it’s been bad, but overall, it just is a fact. So we talk a lot about that. Where are we? What can each one of us do individually to create change? What can organizations like ours do to create change? How can we expand our reach and influence to make a bigger and broader difference? And that’s always the question we’re asking ourselves. What’s next? How do we expand and how do we grow bigger to create this big change that we’re all looking for men and women, quite frankly. But we definitely women have a shared experience. And, you know, and guys like you are super important in this process. Super important. 

Jim Cavale: Well, I don’t know. I appreciate you saying that. I definitely want to be more proactive. Personally, in my role as CEO of INFLCR or even supporting my wife, as her co-founder, but I think the biggest thing we need to do is men is realize we don’t fully grasp the perspective of what women have to go through in certain situations. And we can learn through anecdotal interactions more than we can through some black and white study of KPIs. And don’t get me wrong, KPIs and stats are great, but just listening to stories and having empathy and that really goes for anything in society when it comes to relationships. Right. Like probably the biggest problem that we have in our country is a lack of empathy and interaction with different perspectives. But I think for me, look at Candice, who just became the the AD at Vanderbilt. Amazing story, right? Awesome story. Right? How can you measure success for your organization? Is it seeing more of those types of stories? I mean, an African-American woman being an athletic director in the SEC is a big milestone. 

Patti Phillips: It’s huge. Well, listen, she’s right now technically the interim, and so we hope that interim tag gets taken off even that is still a first. So interesting question of how we measure success, because, you know, we’ve kind of worked on that. It’s hard to measure the success of an athletic director or leader in this industry, male or female, because what leaders want to measure success are is not how success is measured in this industry. This industry pretty much it’s measured by wins and losses. And that doesn’t mean you’re a bad leader or a bad coach, but that’s how it’s measured, quite frankly, particularly in the division one level. Or is it that you build the most buildings or that you know, so it’s like these arbitrary things. So right now, how we’re measuring is our ability to advance women into leadership roles. And by that marker, we’ve had tremendous success over the last several years, particularly over the last two, two to three. I mean, two years ago, I think when we tracked it was like sixty eight women had been had taken on leadership roles in all divisions. And when we first started tracking in 2012, I think the first year was like 14 or 19. That’s, which is terrible. So it is constant conversations with leaders about processes. And we talk with search firms and presidents and search committees about biases and search processes. So one marker is giving women the opportunity to lead. But it’s not all about that at that level either. It is about women in this business. Can they sustain jobs? Can there be a level of of happiness? And so that’s all really hard because quite frankly, we’re not in every space making these decisions. 

We believe when we train women and talk to women and we coach, coach women up on leadership competencies that are transferable and that are really important. And this is how we’re all making an impact in the world. Right. That how they do that at every level is really important. And another measure for us is the pipeline getting more women into the industry and tracking them into these tracks where there is upward mobility. So career strategy is another important thing. And this is just kind of an eight with guys have been more focused on that over the years. And women have most of the time when I’m talking, I’m telling women the guys have been doing it all right. They know exactly what’s going on. We have to learn from that, where women have kind of just not had as much career strategy or had a goal in mind. You can’t just say you want to be an athletic director and start over and do an athlete development or compliance. You might get there. It’s a long, long journey. Whereas now the trends are they’re hiring people from the external. Where’s the money? Marketing, ticketing, branding and all those, fundraising. And you have a higher percentage of advancing when you’re in that track. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but we do have to play the percentage game. So for us, we have all sorts of different measures of success internally. 

Our membership value, the number of people in our programs, our growth externally, number of women that are advancing into these leadership positions, the role we can have in impacting and influencing. We have a pointee on the Division one board of directors, which is a huge deal, the NCAA Division One board of directors, so we can influence in those decision making processes as well. So there’s a lot of different markers. It’s actually a great question, especially the question of, you know, how our leaders are measured in this industry. It’s really different than a company where you’re measuring stock and you know and by the way, for corporations that measure that, a lot of times when women have been the CEOs, they have greater returns. So that’s been a well documented and published result of diversity in leadership, particularly with women. But that’s not the kind of measurement that we can get in intercollegiate athletics. So it’s a tough one. As far as kind of measuring what is a successful leader look like. I think all of our women that are leading are doing a great job and a lot of guys are doing a great job, too. And then there’s a lot of good leaders that because of the nature of this industry, how it’s going, you are also having a tough time, quite frankly. And sometimes that’s not a gender thing either. So it’s interesting. 

Jim Cavale: No doubt about it. This is fascinating stuff. And I’m excited to really get to know you and be more involved with women leaders. I know one of our key team members attended your conference out in Arizona this past year and really enjoyed it. But love the work you’re doing and I think a place I want to hand is back in sports, and that is just what are some of the stories in sports, maybe one story in particular that’s had the biggest impact on you and your career. 

Patti Phillips: The story in sports that’s had the biggest impact on me in my career, that is a big, tough question. Gosh, I don’t know, I mean, I think the biggest impact are some of the the things that happened in sports before me, you know, Billie Jean King matched with Bobby Riggs was a game changer in so many ways. I mean, those are the types of things that we now, that the stories we have are impactful. But the cultural shifts, I think we’re still in the middle of. Some of the bigger changes happened prior to, I mean, Title Nine and Billie Jean King and some of those stories, you know, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon is like the big game changers of what are what’s possible for women. Right. 

So now we’re just trying to jump on that to continue to change the narrative of how women are perceived as leaders. 

Jim Cavale: No those are great ones. 

Patti Phillips: Well, I’m not sure if I feel like I’m, you know, so impacted all the time. Well, one more recently was when Sandy Barbara Jen Cohen met the Fiesta Bowl a couple of years ago. That was the first time two female aides had met in one of the big six, the New Year’s Day, six bowls, and we called it the all girl Fiesta Bowl. Yeah. So that was a big deal. So those kind of firsts. And then Carla Williams getting hired at Virginia. She was the first African-American power five woman ad. And so, gosh, yes. You know, all these things that are happening are huge. These are these are big moments when women actually see things are possible. You know, younger women, you have to kind of see it to want to be it. So that’s happening more and more. We’re breaking down the stereotypes and the barriers around women being able to lead large programs for football. So all those things are happening now all the time. So maybe that’s a good thing because I have several that bubble up and it’s not just one. And hopefully we’re all doing our jobs. We’re going to keep having more and more of those things bubbling up as well. 

Jim Cavale: If you’re talking to a young woman who is thinking that she wants to chase her passion into the sports industry, whether it’s she’s a student athlete and wants to follow that with being in sports, or maybe she comes from outside of sports as an athlete, but just wants to work in the game. I know my 17 year old. She’s not an athlete, but her dream is to work in sports. If you’re talking to my 17 year old, what would you say to her? What advice would you give her about pursuing a career in sports? 

Patti Phillips: Well, what’s your 17 year old name, by the way? 

Jim Cavale: Her name is Savannah. 

Savannah, you send Savannah over, okay, and we will get her going right away, which is awesome. I love it. What I tell them, first of all, getting involved in sports, I don’t think is that different than any history. It is. You know, you’ve got to be passionate and work hard and get after it when you’re a young person. We talk a lot about managing and how to stand out, and those things are transferable. Sports is though a small you know, it is kind of the microcosm where it’s like, you know everybody. Everybody knows everybody. So breaking into that, you got to be really good. And quite frankly, that should be a goal of every young person. To be really good, to be the best, to work hard, to have a growth mindset. 

You know, I always tell young people, be conscious of who you surround yourself with. So much of our lives are determined by the people we hang out with. And there’s been all sorts of research on that. And I think young people aren’t as thoughtful about that as they could be. And it could be a game changer. I tell them to really be great communicators, and I do think it is becoming a lost art with young people. And to focus on standing out, they need to be communicators and be able to shake hands and look people in the eye. And so, again, it’s not anything you’re doing different. It’s not different than what you’re telling her at home. And I do think, though, that because sports is somewhat myopic in ways that you got to really show your stripes, and it is you don’t want to say a 24/7 industry, it might be a little more so because there’s events and evenings and weekends. And so you got to want to be able to work it. There’s a little bit of that kind of grit that you need. I’m a big fan of both the grit and mindset, and these are all things that are coachable having a resilient attitude. You know, we talk a lot about being a good human, wanting to grow emotionally, having social intelligence. I mean, all those things are super important. But energy and attitude, I think, can send anyone a long way in life for sure. 

Jim Cavale: There’s no doubt about it. Patti, I really appreciate you making time and have a lot of admiration for the work you’re doing and the impact you’re making in the industry. Thanks for chatting with me today. 

Patti Phillips: Yeah, Jim, thank you. And congrats on everything you’re doing. Please send Savannah over, I look forward to talking with her. 

Jim Cavale: You got it. 

Really thankful that Patti took the time to spend with us here and “I Want Your Job” sharing her story that you surely can relate to in so many levels. You can get the show notes from this episode by going to, that’s I-N-F-L-C-R dot com and click the podcasts option. When you do, you’ll see season two and you’ll see this episode with Patti where you can not only get the show notes, but learn how to follow her and connect with her virtually and on social media. And we tried to do that for every show. So you can go back to previous episodes. And of course, if you haven’t subscribed yet on your podcast engine of choice, please do so because we want you to know every time we’re coming out with a new episode of our wonderful podcast featuring such great guests like Patti. 

From everyone here at INFLCR, thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of “I Want Your Job”.