Thursday, April 23, 2009

Women Leading Behind the Scenes of UGA's Athletic Department

Statement of the Issue
The sports industry has always been a male dominated field. Until very recently, women have rarely held leadership positions in the workplace. So when leadership and sports co-exist, it is obvious that women are in the extreme minority. The hegemonic masculinity apparent in the sports industry adds to the separation of men and women, allowing men to maintain power over women. However, women in the Athletic Department at UGA prove to be breaking these barriers. The University of Georgia Athletic Department is currently one of the most progressive and successful aspects of the University of Georgia. In 2008, with profit margins over 23.9 million dollars, it was named the most profitable Division 1 athletic department by the NCAA ( While the successes of the Athletic Department are extremely important, it is also imperative to look at its specific contributions in fighting against the organized social hierarchy that is our country. In 2005, UGA became the first Southeastern Conference School to hire an African American as its Athletic Director. Since feminism is a movement for the equality of all marginalized members in society, it is important to note this move by UGA's Athletic Department. In holding leadership positions in the Athletics Department, the women we are interviewing are setting standards of excellence in one of the largest and most important departments at the University of Georgia: sports.

Purpose of Research
The purpose of our research was to explore women’s roles in the UGA Athletic Department. Our goal was to discuss the importance of women's roles in the male dominated arena of sports by interviewing three women who work in this field. We wanted to know how these women became interested in working in the sports field and the type of interactions with males that they face on the job on a daily basis. Even though some of these women may not identify as feminist, there are still feminist issues that may arise within their place of work. Overall, we really wanted to understand women’s experiences working in a male dominated industry. We chose to interview three prestigious women who have very different roles in the UGA Athletic Department. We interviewed Carla Williams (Associate Athletic Director), Peggy Whitfield (Director of Human Resources), and Stephanie Ransom (Director of Business Operations) because they all are very successful individuals in this field who we believe would be able to answer our research questions thoroughly. Through our interviews, we witnessed the progressive spirit that the University of Georgia has implemented to combat the established gender constraints present in society.

Carla Williams-Associate Athletic Director
As associate AD, Carla's job involves over-seeing womens's basketball, the equestrian team, and men and women's swim/dive teams. She is also a title 9 officer, supervisor of academic support, and coordinator of student conduct issues. Not only is Carla a minority because of her gender, but also because of her race. She is one of the few African-American women to be serving in such a prestigious postition at a major university. As a minority, Carla strongly communicated the necessity to prove her legitimacy through earning the respect of her male co-workers. When asked if she was a feminist, she responded thoughtfully in stating that, "I consider myself a closet feminist," due to the stigma attached when one labels him or herself a feminist. She is confident that if a woman wants to be successful in a male dominated industry, she must be willing to network, volunteer in other areas, and develop a thick skin. Through discussing how she believes her experience in the athletic department is different than a man's, she makes it clear that the one thing that really sets her apart is that she must play two roles. Although her husband is extremely helpful at home, everyday she leaves her 9-5 job to begin her "second shift" as caretaker of her family and household. Despite the occasional challenges that come with being a minority in the workplace, Carla is in love with her job and has proven to be a woman deserving of admiration for her accomplishments.
Peggy Whitfield (Director of Human Resources)
As Director of HR, Peggy is responsible for managing payroll, employee benefits, training and development, and human relations. Peggy is in love with her job because she enjoys being around people and offering solutions when problems arise. Although she does not have a college degree in HR, she has gained the respect of those around her through her ability to "look at people as being people, not as black or white and male and female." This unique outlook has allowed Peggy to never really have a problem working in a male dominated field. In fact, she really apprectiates working with men because of their direct approach to their work. Peggy has worked for men in the past at UGA who did not view women equally as men within sports leadership positions. However, Peggy makes it clear that since working underneath Damon Evans, the Head of Athletics, there has been a drastic change in mindset that is evident throughout the entire administration. Essentially, Peggy is driven to do well at her job because she is an avid sports fan and thinks that if you truly love where you're working then you will be successful.

Stephanie Ransom (Director of Business Operations)
As Director of Business Operations, Stephanie is in charge of managing finances regarding salaries, debts, project funding, and coaching contracts. Although her job description is very much behind the scenes, she loves what she does because everything must go through her. Although she loves her job, she has found that it is sometimes difficult to balance the workplace with being a mother and wife. Her husband also works, and she would love to be a stay at home mom somedays, but she believes that she is setting a good example for her children by playing the role of a mother and key individual in the UGA Athletic Department. Stephanie does not claim to be a feminist because she wants her male co-workers to notice and respect her for her work-ethic. In addition, Stephanie firmly advises other women who want to enter a similar work field to realize, "Everyone is not out to get you. You have to rely on your work ethic and character to get you there because jobs are based on skills not gender. You have to create your own opportunities and take advanatge of what is available."

Despite popular belief that all things regarding sports are male dominated, UGA has proven to be a university that is on the forefront of breaking through these sterotypes. Carla Williams is a prime example of an African-American woman gaining recognition and respect in the workplace. Despite the challenges faced in balancing both work and family, she has proven to be a successful role model for not just African-American women, but all people. In addition, Peggy and Stephanie may not be in the limelight of the athletic department, but their roles wihin human resrouces and finances are crucial. Both ladies shy away from identifying themselves as feminists; they believe that women's success is not dependent on the amount of men in the workplace, but on their individual work ethic and skills. Essentially, although these three women have three very different roles, they are all excellent examples of minorities that are breaking barriers in the field of sports.
Group Reflection
This project has been very insightful and eye-opening. The opportunity to meet and talk with such influential women in the athletic department was a real privilege. It is inspiring to hear that the marginalized individuals of society are able to suucceed in leadership postitions that are typically male-dominated. It was encouraging to hear that these women are not only successful, but love what they do as well. However, it was interesting and a bit unexpected that two out of the three women do not claim to be feminists. All three women agreed that the title alone was a distraction from their ability to prove themselves through their job performance. All in all, we will never step foot onto a football field or basketball court without having a sense of apprectiation and respect for those who work behind the scenes to make it all come together.
Here to hold you tender,
Morgan Carney, Heather Davis, Kelin Johnson, Charli Allen, Britt Bush, Elizabeth Friedly
(Day 26 sucka)

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