NBPA’s Michele Roberts Talks Leadership and Empowerment at ESPNW Summit

Women and leadership was one of the topics covered at the 9th annual ESPNW Women + Sports Summit.  The purpose is to bring together female athletes, leaders in the sports world and industry leaders to focus on creating change and opportunity for women in sports. The opening panel discussion on women and leadership featured one of the most powerful women in American sports and an industry powerhouse in banking. Both are black women.


Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association and Titi Cole, Wells Fargo executive vice president, head of operations were joined by Val Ackerman, commissioner of the Big East Conference; and Jessica Gelman, CEO of Kraft Analytics Group, with ESPN analyst Sage Steele moderating the conversation.

One of the most important messages repeated by all the panelists was the importance of knowing you belong in the room. Whatever room that might be. Not just having a seat at the table, but speaking up and using your voice.

Ackerman added this caveat, Getting into “the room where it happens” can be a challenge, and sometimes the reason behind the invitation (or promotion) doesn’t sit well.” Sometimes you will be hired because you are a woman.

“You may get the job because you’re a woman,” she said. “But you will not keep the job because you’re a woman. It’ll be about getting the job done.”

Roberts also touched on the importance of not just empowering the people you work with, but supporting them in the results as well.

“I tell my staff that I know where the buck stops,” Roberts said. “I say, ‘Don’t be afraid; I’ve got your back.”

We all will experience failure at some point. Roberts went on to talk about risk taking, “(life) isn’t a dress rehearsal. If you want to do it, do it now.”

Cole also shared that everyone is figuring things out as they go. We are all still growing and learning. “the work never ends” she said.


photo via ESPNW