Sean Swaby breaks down the NFL’s hiring of Sarah Thomas as its first female official.
I don’t watch a lot of football. I am just not a fan of sports where men chase balls. But this week the NFL did something that got my attention. I read that Sarah Thomas is now the first female NFL Official.
That is newsworthy, because the traditional old boys club of the NFL has traditionally not been a shining example for gender equality in the workplace. Apparently employment ads for NFL Officials had a clause: Women need not apply.
It took the NFL 95 years to promote a woman as an Official.
Women make up 47% of the US workforce, and they have been voting in the US since 1920 (and 1921 for the Canadians out there). Of the top 500 US CEO’s, women make up less than 5%. Women have been part of the action since the beginning of time, so why are we so scared of women being part of the game?
I think it must be because of the stripes. Color psychology tells us that black and white stripes are primal, zebra-like. When we look at the Officials, we think of them as if they are zebras. Zebras eat grass, blend in, stand and watch things move and they run away when they are about to be eaten. That is probably why men make good NFL Officials. Men are good at that kind of stuff.
But seriously, women are just as good as men are when it comes to understanding the rules and calling people on stuff.
Women make up almost half of the workforce, so why do we have such a hard time letting them lead?
Sarah Thomas is reported to be tagged as the first woman Official in the NFL. (For more on the history of women officiating in the NFL follow this link.)
I am excited that this is news, because it might get us thinking a little more. Maybe if women are part of the NFL leadership, we might have more sanity in the conversation about head injuries? Not once in my career have I smashed heads with another man. Real men don’t smash heads.
(And its not only the NFL. With its first woman coach hired in this past year — Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs — the NBA is also beginning to lean in.)
Thomas seems to have the right attitude for the job. For her, it’s not about the head smashing or about the muscles. It’s about the game:
“I don’t try to be one of the guys. I am a female, but I don’t look at myself as just a female. I look at myself as an official.”
Thomas is ideal for a job as an NFL Official. She and her husband have three children and she is a pharmaceutical sales rep. Parenting three children, selling pharmaceuticals and going makeup-free on-camera have prepared her for pretty much anything.
I have more than 30 years in my chosen career. Over half of these years I have been honored to work with female managers. Women are excellent leaders, good decision makers, they are thoughtful and empathetic.
Pardon me for saying it, but I don’t think that leadership should be bathroom talk. It’s not a topic reserved for the ivory urinals of the Men’s Room, or for a group of ladies doing whatever they do together in their bathrooms. Leadership is a conversation that does not depend on our preference of bathroom.
In a way this is not really news.
My mother was promoted to being an Official in 1966 when I was born. She refereed between my brother and I for over 20 years. She managed all of the fights, the squabbles, the compromises, the routines, the decision making and the complicated relationships. Having her helped to make my brother and I the men we are today. I am proud to say that she led us well.
Welcome to the team, Sarah.
Photo Credit: Associated Press/File