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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Derrick

First XI: Women smashing through the male sport industry glass ceiling

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

Often when you hear the term ‘women in sport’, your connotations immediately go to female athletes, leagues, teams and competitions. It is less often that we associate this term with women working within the male sport industry. Business women, marketeers, leaders, coaches, psychologists, trainers of men’s sport.

These women have an equally important role in building equality within the sporting industry, through challenging the status quo, bringing broader perspectives and being role models for future generations as they succeed across genders.

Above all, it’s important that we show that it’s OK for women to work within the men’s space too. Men’s sport can often be positioned as the bad guy as we women try to bring women’s sport up to the same level. But we can’t forget that men’s sport is still enjoyable, transformative and challenging it its own right. It’s only natural that you’re inspired by this and therefore want to have a slice of the pie. In fact. That pie needs YOU more than it may even realise.

Today we celebrate our first XI of brilliant women who make up the tiny percentage of women in the male sport industry. In no particular order, just one inspiring list!

Note: We have deliberately left out specific mention of women’s teams / competitions to keep the focus on the male glass ceiling. We will be running another article soon on the incredible women empowering athletes, teams, competitions and women sport businesses.


Image: Barroness Karren Brady, CBE during her Birmingham City F.C days

Current role(s): Vice-Chairman, West Ham United Football Club | Baroness in the House of Lords

Nationality: British

Career journey: Starting in sales, Karren went on to be the first female and the youngest manager (23) of a football club, turning the struggling Birmingham City Football Club around to an £81.5 million asset at its sale in 2009. During her role at B.C.F.C, Karren also became the youngest managing director of an UK PLC. Following 10 years at the club, Karren was appointed Chairman of West Ham United where she has steered the purchase of London Stadium and has revolutionised the commercials of the club.

Pioneering moment: It’s got to be the moment she convinced investor David Sullivan to buy the struggling Birmingham City F.C and let her be at the helm at only 23 years old.

Social media handle: @karren_brady


Image: Dr. Jen Welter coaching Arizona Cardinals

Current role(s): Sport Psychologist | Motivational Speaker | Founder of GRRRidiron Flag Football Club | Founder ‘A Day in the Life’ programme

Nationality: American

Career journey: Graduating from Boston College with a Master’s degree in sports psychology and a PHD in Psychology, Dr. Welter played professional football for 14 years, being part of Team USA and ultimately winning an array of gold medals at the World Championships. By 2014, she had become the first woman to play running back in a men’s professional league and by 2015 she was hired as the first female coach in men’s professional football.

Pioneering moment: Becoming the first ever female NFL coach when she became linebackers coach for the Arizona Cardinals in 2015.

Social media handle: @jwelter47


Image: Jeanie Buss after winning the 2020 championship

Current role(s): Co-owner and President LA Lakers | Governor and Lakers representative on the NBA Board of Governors | Co-Founder of Cincoro Tequila | Co-owner of WOW Women of Wrestling

Nationality: American

Career journey: Jeanie started her career in sport as the General Manager of the Los Angeles Strings tennis team, moving into being president of the Great Western Forum and then finally, VP of the Los Angeles Lakers. The role at the Lakers was inherited from her father alongside her five siblings however Jeanie was elected to take a controlling stake, act as the Lakers representative and now heads up the team and the Laker business.

Pioneering moment: Being the first female owner to lead a team to the NBA Championships (2020).

Social media handle: @JeanieBuss


Image: Fatma during a visit to Kenya

Current role(s): FIFA Secretary General Nationality: Senegalese

Career journey: Fatma spent over 21 years in the United Nations, navigating incredibly complex socio-economic, political, development and security situations, genuinely working towards changing the world for the better. She now applies this experience in using football as a vehicle for the same positive change. So far, Fatma has launched the first-ever global strategy for women’s football and is working toward a 15-16% representation of females on the FIFA board. Pioneering moment: Becoming the first ever female secretary general of FIFA back in May 2016. Secretary General is the second-most authoritative person in FIFA, behind only the president. Social media handle: @fatma_samoura


Image: Barbara speaking at the Nations and Regions conference

Current role(s): BBC Sports Director

Nationality: British

Career journey: University as a PE teacher, Barbara eventually got into TV through a family friend’s production company before becoming an Assistant Producer at the BBC. Barbara has remained at the BBC and worked her way up to being the first ever female Director of Sport. Pioneering moment: Not only being the first Director of Sport for the BBC, Barbara also won back the broadcasting rights for the FA Cup and oversaw the 2010 World Cup, 2012 Summer Olympics and 2010 Winter Olympics.

Social media handle: Not available


Image: Stéphanie Frappart refereeing an Europa League match

Current role(s): Football referee

Nationality: French

Career journey: Stéphanie became an official referee in 2011 where she refereed matches in the men’s French Championnat National and Ligue 2. In 2019, Stéphanie was announced as the first ever female to referee a Ligue 1 match. Later that year, she was appointed to referee the 2019 UEFA Super Cup between Liverpool men’s and Chelsea men’s, becoming the first woman to officiate a major men’s European match. If that wasn’t enough, Stéphanie has gone on to referee the Champions Cup, UEFA Men’s Champions League (the first female to do so), and was the first female to referee a FIFA Men’s World Cup qualifier.

Pioneering moment: Earlier this year, Stéphanie was officially selected to referee the 2022 FIFA World Cup - the first female to do so. Of course.

Social media handle: @stephanie.frappart


Image: Debbie during the RugbyWorld Cup 2015 in England

Current role(s): Non-executive director of the English Football League | All England Lawn and Tennis Club (AELTC) Board Member | Trustee, Invictus Games | Board Member, Halfspace Group

Nationality: British

Career journey: Debbie started her career as a tennis player, winning the Wimbledon Junior Champion and playing in 10 Grand Slams. When she resigned from tennis, Debbie launched a career in sports business, holding positions that included General Secretary at the International Tennis Federation, Director of Sports for London 2012 and CEO of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Pioneering moment: Debbie became the first female Chair of the EFL and is currently the frontrunner to be the first ever female Chair of the AELTC.

Social media handle: N/A


Image: Krystina at her Alfa Romeo garages

Current role(s): Computational Fluid Dynamics Development Engineer for Alfa Romeo’s ORLEN Formula 1 team | Director/Industry Ambassador: Racing Pride | FIA Girls on Track Ambassador | Women’s Sport Collective Advisory Panel Member | Community Outreach Volunteer: The Female Drive

Nationality: Australian

Career journey: Krystina knew from early on that she wanted to get into mechanical engineering so she could eventually land a role within Formula 1. She tracked down those with roles she wanted and picked their brains to make sure she chose the right university (Oxford Brookes), the right course and the right attitude - which turned out to be one of ‘no fear’. After graduating, Krystina became a Design Engineer with AP Racing, a CAE Analyst with Jaguar Land Rover before landing the dream role at Alfa Romeo.

Pioneering moment: Being one of only five women to complete her motorsport engineering course, out of 300 students.

Social media handle: @krystinaemmanouilides


Image: Jessica with, from left Devin Booker, D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns

Current role(s): Co-head Basketball at Creative Artists Agency (CAA)

Nationality: American

Career journey: Having always had a love for basketball, Jessica started her career at none other than the National Basketball Association (NBA). Dabbling in a bit of production with CBS as well, Jessica eventually found her strengths in player marketing which lead her agency-side at Excel Sports Management before taking on her role at the incredible and renowned, CAA.

Pioneering moment: Jessica has just recently become the first woman to ever represent two max-salary NBA players (Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns); deals she led, negotiated and got over the line.

Social media handle: @JHoltz


Image: Kim Ng at the Marlins home stadium

Current role(s): General Manager, Miami Marlins

Nationality: American

Career journey: Having played baseball for most her life, Kim graduated into a role with the Chicago White Sox. From here, Kim held various Assistant Director and Assistant General Manager roles where for many years, her career stalled (mainly due to her gender) until she was finally made a General Manager for the Miami Marlins.

Pioneering moment: Having interviewed for at least six different General Manager roles, Kim landed the role of General Manager at the Miami Marlins - the first ever female General Manager of any major North American sport.

Social media handle: Not available


Image: Melissa during her trial

Current role(s): Journalist | Speaker | Author

Nationality: American

Career journey: Melissa has been a sports journalist from the moment her career began, starting out with ABC Sports and Sports Illustrated. She eventually moved into investigative journalism at universities. Always struggling to get the same inside scoops as her male counterparts, she fought for access to the male locker room, overturning previous legislation and changing the landscape for female sports journalists across America (and globally!)

Pioneering moment: Taking Bowie Kuhn - the Commissioner of Baseball - to court to get equal rights for women sports reporters, stating her 14th amendment rights were violated. She won.

Social media handle: @MelissaLudtke

What do you think? Who would you add to this list?

Keep an eye out for the next list of women breaking down doors to get more equality for female athletes, teams, competitions and business.

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