Couldn’t you hear the joy around the world when Kim Ng was hired by the Miami Marlins as the first-ever female General Manager of a Major League Baseball team? The emotions ran high among both women and men -- from tears of joy to “why did it take so long to smash the glass ceiling and let a woman in?” Some were concerned about how she could hold the baton high as she steered the baseball team to expected championships.
Perhaps more importantly, there were these questions:
What could other women learn from her? How could we finally smash some long-standing societal myths about what women can and cannot do when let in the door to bring their talent and toughness to the forefront?
As I myself shared the joy, I had to ask: “What is next for Kim Ng?”
After all, Danny Evans
, the former Dodgers GM who brought Ng to Los Angeles as his assistant in 2001, said she’s “carrying the torch for an entire generation who look at her as a ceiling-breaker” in sports.
If we look at Ng’s journey, we see that it offers important insights into the challenges and difficulties women face when they aspire to professional sports management careers. As a young adult, she was a varsity softball player, playing shortstop and third base for the University of Chicago. Graduating in 1990, she worked her way up in the front offices of several Major League Baseball teams, becoming a vice president of the League. Throughout her career, she worked with strong mentors, including Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees, Ned Colletti of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and former Yankees and Dodgers manager Joe Torre, then MLB’s chief baseball officer.
Passed Over Five Times
It took some time for Ng’s perseverance to pay off. She interviewed for five MLB general manager positions before finally breaking through at the Marlins, all the while dealing with the gender biases inherent in male-dominated industries and the accompanying slurs, off-color comments, and disrespect.
While Ng’s persistence and patience are often cited as keys to her success – along with her stick-to-it focus on what she wanted to achieve – we know that her path has never been easy.
What might this mean for the future, for other women who aspire to rise up and lead in fields where it’s never been done by a woman before? And, why was it so hard to leap over those walls and smash through the proverbial glass ceiling?
Women Making Strides But Still Lagging Behind Men
WSF’s research further shows that the number of women participating in high school sports increased for the 29th consecutive year, with 3.4 million females involved in 2017-2018, dropping slightly in 2018-2019. And in the NCAA, there are currently over 216,000 college athletic opportunities for women. “Across the board, more girls and women are accessing the significant benefits of sports participation,” the report states.
With Kim Ng’s breakthrough moment, I hope she is reflecting on her role for the future of women in professional sports.
I asked my colleagues in sports management and administration their thoughts on Ng’s next steps, and they quickly shared their perspectives:
1. Beth DeBauche,
Commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference, said that “Ng is already playing an inspirational role for young women.” Everyone is watching her, which reminded me of the game-changing statement from Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund, “It’s hard to be what you can’t see
.” For young women everywhere, this is a moment to look beyond the boundaries and the hurdles and propel themselves forward to become the best they can be.
2. Ng has a job to do for other women who need to know how to get ahead. The men are keeping a critical eye on her performance. Women have no room to fail and she knows that it is her responsibility to show the way to success.
3. Her style will be on display. Women who are moving into tough leadership positions know that they have to lead effectively, even if it might be a different way of leading.
These women leaders are highly effective, as shown in the latest research by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, where women score higher than men on most of the key measures of leadership.
Our own research shows how women lead more often through team collaboration and communication, innovation, and empowerment than through the older command and control models.
4. Ng must become a powerful supporter of other women as they seek to smash through their own glass ceilings. While she might be on a pedestal today, many others are watching how she can help them climb their own ladders and sit on top soon.
Kim Ng knows all this. As she told Reuters
: “This challenge is one I don’t take lightly. When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely a woman would lead a Major League team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals. My goal is now to bring championship baseball to Miami.”
Congratulations, Kim, for being the first. Let’s all hope you’re not the last...