CSL Well Represented at 2020 Women Leaders X Conference
“I had no clue what to expect, considering this was the first time I would get to attend a conference like this. I thought it might be a more laid back, causal experience but it was, for lack of a better term… HYPE.”
That’s how current VCU Center for Sport Leadership student Stephanie Roberts described the 2020 Women Leaders X conference. The annual event is hosted by Women Leaders in College Sports, an organization dedicated to developing, connecting, and advancing women working in college sports and beyond. And being hype, apparently.
CSL Executive Director Dr. Carrie LeCrom shared that feeling as well, saying, “The Women Leaders X Conference is by far the most high-energy conference I’ve ever attended. It’s very well produced, there’s always great keynote speakers, events are scheduled around it, and they have awesome chances for networking. I’ve always thought of it as one of the best conferences you can attend in terms of all the things you can get out of it.”
The program was well-represented by Roberts and her fellow classmate Courtney Adams, as well as Dr. LeCrom, and a number of CSL alumnae. They contributed to the more than 3,500 people who took part in the programming over Zoom on October 11th and 12th.
The global COVID-19 pandemic forced Women Leaders X to be held virtually for the very first time, providing a unique challenge to both organizers and participants. Using tools at their disposable, such as the “breakout room” function on Zoom, many hurdles were conquered with grace.
“I was a little hesitant going in because my favorite thing is the connections you get to make with other women, so I was somewhat fearful of not getting those opportunities,” said Gonzaga Ticket Manager Kelsey Crawford (’14). “But with the breakout sessions after each of the keynote speakers, I was still able to be around smaller groups of people and find those connections I was hoping for.”
Kennesaw State Compliance Coordinator Morgan Dale (’19) agreed, “the breakout sessions were really valuable. They provided great conversations and it made a huge difference in my experience this year. We could share our thoughts and relate the keynote speakers’ messages to our time in the workplace in a group of people from all different backgrounds and experience levels.”
The two-day event was comprised of two main components: talks led by an all-star cast of keynote speakers that included author Brené Brown, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Muffet McGraw, and Morgan Stanley Vice Chairman and Managing Director Carla Harris, as well as the aforementioned breakout sessions following each keynote that split attendees into smaller groups for more personal discussions.
Attendees came away with a wealth of new lessons and ideas to digest from the four keynote speakers.
“One idea that really stuck with me is that you can be a leader from wherever you are,” said Adams, a member of the Class of 2021. “You don’t have to be the boss or the professor and you don’t have to have a ton of experience; you can find ways to be a leader no matter who you are.”
“Courageous leaders need to be attentive to the fears and feelings of those they are leading," Roberts said of her main takeaway. “Each member of a team needs to feel seen and heard. And I thought that was a really important message – especially in a time as difficult as the one we are in right now.”
Even Dr. LeCrom, someone who has been attending these types of conferences and dedicating much of her life to pondering best practices in leadership, left Women Leaders X with a new concept to apply in her teaching.
“We don’t teach people how to fail. You hear all the time that you should learn from your failures, but we never necessarily learn how to fail gracefully and how to turn a lesson from failure into a positive result. If you want people who are willing to take some risks, which are often people who ultimately become really successful, you have to teach them how to do it rather than just telling them to do it.”
An awards ceremony held on the first night set the tone by celebrating the accomplishments of women from across the industry. Recognitions for Administrator of the Year, Lifetime Achievement, Rising Star, Promising Professional, and more were all part of a joyous ceremony.
“Celebrating our successes is huge,” Crawford said of the ceremony. “When it comes to finding a role model for any young women in our industry, it’s really important to see others who have taken a similar path as you, has a similar background, or even looks similar to you. Seeing someone have success and being celebrated that you can relate to can be really empowering and impactful. Women should be just as comfortable talking about their accomplishments as men are and I think it’s crucial for women in the industry to move forward in a positive way.”
“We don’t stop to celebrate successes enough,” added Dr. LeCrom. “It’s too easy to overlook things and move on without recognizing our success the way we should. I love that this organization puts a lot of focus on that and works to publicly acknowledge the great work that’s being done by women in our industry!”
With programming that takes place throughout the year, Women Leaders in College Sports is consistently looking for ways to make an impact. From industry veterans to students just figuring out what they want to do with their career, there’s something for everyone.
“Having an organization that really pushes women forward and works hard to collaborate with women from all over the country means everything to me,” said Dale. “We are in an industry that doesn’t always feel like it values women as much as it should so it’s a great feeling to know Women Leaders in College Sports is there to help me grow my relationships and support myself and fellow women.”
“Growing up I always thought the only way for me to work in sports was in broadcasting because that’s all you see when you’re little,” continued Adams. “It honestly took me until I got to college to realize that wasn’t the case. It’s been really cool, as I grow and learn more about the industry, to see all the different paths people take.”
Staying true to its mission of guiding the next generation of leaders in the sport industry, the CSL made use of the fund normally utilized to provide students with travel to attend these types of events in person and covered the cost of the Women Leaders X for both Adams and Roberts.
“We were extremely appreciative of the CSL for encouraging us to attend and then paying for us to participate in this conference,” Roberts said. “Carrie her and Bea[triz Ferrera] were a huge help in getting us registered. It really shows that the program cares about our professional development beyond the classroom and truly wants to help us become better leaders and better women.”
Vanessa Moore (’17) agrees. Currently the Director of Athletics Annual Giving at William & Mary, she believes Dr. LeCrom embodies the CSL’s commitment and dedication to empowering young females in sport.
“I think it’s an amazing movement. We’re led in the CSL by Dr. LeCrom and having a woman at the head of our program is so inspirational. If you don’t see people who have similar traits as you in positions you aspire to, it can be hard to see yourself in those same positions so she sets that example for many of us. Her leadership certainly has a lot to do with the success of many women in the industry today.”
Even in a year full of uncertainty and an inherit distance between us due to the pandemic, both the VCU Center for Sport Leadership and Women Leaders in College Sports have, by all accounts, succeeded in bringing together some of the nation’s brightest and strongest female professionals in the sport industry.
“The CSL network is so important to us and to see that it’s extending into another organization that I think so highly of is amazing,” Dr. LeCrom concluded. “To have that additional piece of your relationship with people in your network is special and I’m happy that our students and alumni are growing together.”