WNBA earns highest grades among pro leagues in diversity hiring, study shows


A study finds the WNBA continuing to earn the highest marks of all professional leagues when it comes to racial and gender diversity in hiring.

Wednesday’s report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) issued an A-plus for the league’s overall, racial and gender grades in the 2020 season. The numerical scores were all up from the previous year, and the study noted the league has gone 16 straight years earning at least an A in all three overall categories in the report card.

“It’s definitely the standard among the pro sports leagues that we cover,” TIDES director and lead report author Richard Lapchick said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The WNBA is one of five professional leagues reviewed by TIDES, with the others being the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer. By comparison, the NBA had an overall A-minus for 2020, followed by B grades for MLB and MLS, and a B-minus for the NFL.

The study examined positions at WNBA headquarters as well as the team level, including team presidents/chief executive officers, professional staff, coaches and head trainers. It reviewed data submitted by the league, covering players from September and other positions such as owners, general managers and coaches from December.

The league earned an overall 97.4 score, up from 94.8 for the 2019 report. That increase relied primarily on a four-point jump in gender hiring (98.0), while the racial score climbed slightly from 95.6 in 2019 to 96.7 in 2020.

More specifically, women held 58.3 of team vice-president or higher positions, the highest percentage in the history of the study.

‘Regularly moved the bar upwards’

At the WNBA league office, women held 60.9 per cent of professional positions, compared to 48.9 per cent the previous year, ending a run of four straight declines. That was an A-plus along with league office’s racial score, with people of colour filling 50 per cent of positions, according to the study.

“They have regularly moved the bar upwards instead of downwards,” Lapchick said. “We see fluctuation year to year in all the other report cards. But the WNBA has been consistently in this exact spot.”

Lapchick cited two areas for improvement: gender scores for general managers and head coaches.

There were only three women working as team general managers — Indiana’s Tamika Catchings, Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve and Seattle’s Alisha Valavanis — for a D-plus. Women accounted for five of 12 head-coaching positions (41.7 per cent), which was the same as 2019 and accounted for an A-minus grade.

“At the WNBA, we’re encouraged to have had many all-time highs in this year’s Race and Gender Report Card,” league commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. “That said, we remain committed to continuing to be one of the most inclusive and progressive leagues, and will remain vigilant in our focus on developing league and team cultures that promote diverse hiring at all levels.”

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