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Title IX spurs a generation of women leaders

Dan Leidl

Joe Frontiera
Daniel Leidl, Ph.D. (left) and Joe Frontiera, Ph.D. (right) are Managing Partners at Meno Consulting, a firm that specializes in leadership and organizational development and they co-write the blog My Generation Leader.

Kat Gerrish, President of California-based Canary Marketing, walked onto Santa Clara's newfound golf team in 1993. By her senior year she had earned a scholarship, made the all-conference team and was a two-time captain. Shortly after being named to a leadership position as a junior, she had a bad round of golf and found herself getting drawn into an argument. Her coach watched, waited for her teammates to clear, and then pulled her aside to ask, "Would you rather be right, or rather be happy?"

Gerrish attributes much of her competitive drive, fluid networking ability and team awareness to lessons learned as an athlete, but her coach's question from over a decade ago stays with her. "I've taken that with me throughout my business career," Gerrish admits, "My coach asked me to step up and lead, suggesting that getting along with the team is more important than proving a point sometimes."

Implemented in 1972, Title IX is considered to be the catalyst behind the growth of female participation in sports. From 1970 to 2008 women's collegiate teams have grown from2.5 to 8.65 per school, and the legacy of the law continues to flourish. From recent discussions relating to the Title IX equivalent for women in science to research correlating female athletes with success beyond sports, Title IX continues to inspire progressive conversation nearly 40 years since its introduction.

While new findings suggesting that women are better off academically, occupationally and physically from athletic participation, there is a generation of female athletes who have taken profound leadership lessons from their on-field experiences. These women represent a newfound group of athletes who have been afforded athletic opportunities from peewee to post-grad, and are now drawing on their experiences to navigate the corporate world in the same way they ran the playing field.

Alexis Maybank, co-founder of the high fashion, e-commerce game-changer, Gilt Groupe, echoes the sentiments of Gerrish. With an undergraduate degree and MBA from Harvard, it's hard to believe that an athletic experience could trump her academic opportunities and training. Yet, Maybank's time competing with the Crimson lacrosse team and running cross-country in high school has been instrumental in guiding her success as a leader in one of Fast Companies Most Innovative Companies of 2010. "Classrooms are so safe," she said, "There's something about the heightened level of pressure from a leadership position in a team environment that I didn't get in a classroom."

Also a believer in the developmental power of sport, Cindy Timchal is among a pioneering group of collegiate coaches who came of athletic age in the 70s and seized on the opportunities that Title IX provided. Timchal made her mark with the University of Maryland, guiding the Terps to eight national championships in women's lacrosse. She has more wins than any other women's lacrosse coach in history, and with nearly 25 previous players coaching in the collegiate ranks she has essentially devoted her professional life to inspiring and guiding leaders.

Now the head coach at the Naval Academy, Timchal adds a unique element to the rigorous training regiment her midshipmen endure. "When you come to the Naval Academy it's an institution of leadership...we're adding a dimension for these women that many can not get: what it takes to compete, to work as a team, to have the hardships of losses, and the thrills of victory."

One Timchal product who has bridged on-field success with a torrid corporate career called in to talk about leadership and sport from the Vancouver Olympic Games. As Director of Women's Sport Marketing at Under Armour, Tori Hanna draws heavily from her four NCAA titles and All-American honors as a University of Maryland lacrosse player. Hanna serves as the face of Under Armour to female athletes from the professional to grass-roots ranks, and she asserts that her athletic experiences have fostered a "team is the first thing" perspective.

Along with thousands of athletes who experienced similar leadership lessons, Hanna, Gerrish and Maybank are serving to justify the role that a law passed in 1972 has played in developing corporate leaders across the United States. Before returning to her responsibilities at the Olympic Games, Hanna described a halftime scene from one of her four national championship game appearances.

The team was losing, and waiting for their coach. Timchal walked in, cracked a joke, and said, "'Figure this out and just go out there and win." Hanna laughed, recalling the unconventional halftime talk, but admitted that, "It cut the tension and livened things up a bit." She reminded us that they did go on to win, and in many ways Hanna hasn't looked back. While she carries with her the idea that levity can break tension and can refocus a team on a field or in a boardroom, she also carries with her the confidence that she belongs on the field and in the boardroom and can win at whatever she puts her mind to.

Title IX set out to get more girls playing sports, but has indirectly inspired a generation of women to lead through business, resulting in the achievement of dreams that extend far beyond the playing field.

By Joe Frontiera and Dan Leidl

 |  March 2, 2010; 6:54 AM ET |  Category:  Women in leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Point well taken. I only wish that my industry did not have such a hard time attracting female leaders (high tech).

In my experience, I have noticed a direct relationship between those who have experiences "competing" in a group setting and on-the-job performance. I sometimes wonder whether the end result is correlational or causational, but the bottom line is that it is a huge plus for candidates who have demonstrable experience in team-based competition.

I think that the foundational experience can extend beyond traditional sports teams as well (orchestra, activism, etc.) The essence seems to be practical experience with the "sum of the parts" phenomenon.

Great article.

Posted by: TheFavoredChild | March 4, 2010 1:24 AM

Very informative article!!! However, as a long-time women's coach I would highly disagree with lynnmsander's comment. She has obviously not been around long enough to witness the efficacy of Title IX and what it has truly accomplished.

Also, hallkw sounds like another Republican lickspittle sycophant!!! Palin wouldn't know Title IX from an Alaskan hole in the ice!!!

Posted by: HOTSPLITTER | March 3, 2010 10:54 AM

Participating in sports might help women become leaders, and Title IX has clearly fueled that participation. But Leidl and Frontiera make two errors about the law.

First, the law established equality for women in all educational programs receiving federal aid, not just sports. There's no "Title IX equivalent" in science - these science initiatives derive from Title IX itself and are arguably closer to the law's original aims than sports initiatives.

Second, Title IX never "set out to get more girls playing sports." Hardly anyone lobbied for the 1972 law in order to expand women's athletics. Instead, sports were caught in Title IX's egalitarian sweep, since athletic programs turned out to be an area of egregious inequality in schools.

Title IX's huge impact on sports is better characterized as an unintended consequence welcomed by many. And maybe, as Leidl and Frontiera suggest, this impact on sports has brought women into leadership roles. Leidl and Frontiera's error is very common (http://www.slate.com/id/2071832) - but we still need to get the history right.

Posted by: LynnMSanders | March 2, 2010 10:58 AM

Wonderful article. So sad that the post by michaelnilander is so inappropriate !!
Poster might want to read the article again.

Posted by: hallkh | March 2, 2010 10:55 AM

One of the biggest changes is that girls are now encouraged to play sports. I was a beneficiary of Title IX years ago, but it was not a popular thing for girls to play sports. In fact, we were sometimes ridiculed or worse. Despite my athletic experience, it never helped me in business because male bosses always assumed that women did not have that experience. I would say that the changes in the workforce over the past few years explain more of women's success. On a side note, women at the Naval Academy are midshipmen, not cadets.

Posted by: readerny | March 2, 2010 7:47 AM

Yeah, I don't think we should give credit for Sarah Palin to Title IX.

Bet you anything she throws it out her first year in office.

Posted by: michaelniland | March 2, 2010 7:08 AM

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