06/24/2014 12:21 EDT | Updated 08/24/2014 05:59 EDT

We Need to Focus on Sports, Not Genders

Digital Vision. via Getty Images

Very few women hold positions of power in the sports industry, but things are beginning to change. Women in sport used to feel invisible, but they shouldn't anymore.

That's the word from a few of the women who work behind the scenes in the sports industry, making strides in a field that's not exactly known for being accessible to females.

Lisa Murray, the chief marketing officer at Octagon Worldwide, has spent almost 25 years in the sports marketing industry and has worked on six FIFA World Cup Championships around the world, plus the one still to come in Brazil this summer.

"To be a female that has remained in the sports marketing business since 1989 is perhaps a unique initiative," Murray says. However, she doesn't believe she's in a male-dominated field anymore and insists every one of her colleagues have been supportive and encouraging.

"Most of my clients are females and I work with and encourage the development of many women in our agency. When the field was male-dominated, I never felt there were negatives," she adds. "If you're good at what you do, you're respected."

Murray got where she is today simply by taking advantage of the opportunities available to her, learning from the leadership that surrounded her and saying yes to all that was asked of her, she says. Her advice to aspiring professionals? "Say yes. Yes to new opportunities, yes to increased responsibility, yes to more assignments, yes to travel -- SAY YES," she urges.

NHL Network host Kathryn Tappen has had a similar experience in that the majority of those she's worked with have been fully supportive. "My on-air colleagues are like brothers to me," says Tappen, who's covered events like the Olympics, Stanley Cup Finals, NHL Winter Classic, Super Bowls, NBA Finals, World Series and more. "We tease one another, spend a lot of time with one another and are all working for the same goal."

When asked about the best advice she's ever gotten, Kathryn says two things stick out in her mind. Alice Cook, a long-time Boston sportscaster, told her, "Skate your lane." Recently, ESPN anchor Linda Cohn informed her, "I'd rather have a life of 'oh wells' than 'what ifs.'"

More and more women appear to be taking up important roles in the sports world, which propels others forward. Kim Ng, for example, was the youngest person -- and the first woman -- to present a salary arbitration case in the major leagues when working for the Chicago White Sox as a special projects analyst. She won.

She was also the youngest assistant general manager ever in the majors when the New York Yankees hired her at 29 years old. She's now the vice president of baseball operations at Major League Baseball, though her dream is to become the first female GM in any major sport.

Laura Gentile draws attention to women in sport in a different way. As vice president in the office of the president at ESPN, she was challenged with creating a platform that would be attractive to the female sport audience.

That's when espnW was born. It debuted as a blog in December 2010 and quickly grew into a full-fledged website, catering to women as both fans and athletes. It takes sports fans inside the biggest events and shares a unique point of view on stories that matter to most women.

But while females work to remove obstacles for women in sport, be it women behind the scenes or fans, Tyler Tumminia admits she has faced her fair share on her rise to the top. She looks at each one as a challenge.

"I'm not about the negatives. I'm about solutions and the positives," says Tumminia, who manages the day-to-day responsibilities of five Minor League teams and hopes to one day own a Major League squad.

She's encountered people that try to create push back but insists successful leaders can find ways to get change to happen in a diplomatic fashion.

The best compliment anyone can give her is not asking her about her gender. After all, that shouldn't be the focus. "When talking to peers and colleagues they're not talking to a woman -- they're talking to an executive," she says.

"I got to where I am today by working hard, persevering and being persistent -- some might even say annoyingly persistent," she continues.

She believes that the story of women in sports will only change when people stop paying attention to the "women" moniker. She looks forward to the day when women are seen as, well, a normal part of the game.


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