No symbolic hiring: putting women in the best positions in men’s sport is winning

When Cammi Granato was young, she had a fantasy: she and her hockey-mad brothers would win the lottery, buy a hockey team, and manage it together.

This plan, they believed, was the only way for Granato, as a girl, to contribute.

Tony and Don Granato continued their NHL careers, and now their sister is one of two women recently hired as assistant general managers for the Vancouver Canucks.

“I didn’t think I was going to see this coming so fast – in my lifetime,” said Granato, now 51.

Cammi Granato, who is perhaps best known to Canadians as a former captain of the United States team, is one of two women recently hired as assistant general managers of the Vancouver Canucks. (Vancouver Canucks)

But there was no need to win the lottery to get here – Cammi Granato has simply had an impressive and diverse hockey career, built despite the obstacles and exhaustion that came with being the first woman in almost every job she has held.

Granato, who is perhaps best known to Canadians as a former captain of the United States team, where she played for 15 years, comes to Vancouver after three years as a scout for the Seattle Kraken. The other new assistant general manager, Émilie Castonguay, was the league’s first certified female agent, negotiating big deals with top players.

Jim Rutherford, president of hockey operations for the Canucks, says these are not token hires. It’s about winning — something the team, which missed this year’s playoffs, has to do.

“My goal was to bring different people, who have taken different paths into the world of hockey — to bring different ideas, different voices,” Rutherford said.

High level hires

Women’s voices are increasingly heard at the highest levels of professional sport. The BC Lions, for example, were the first CFL team to hire a coach, defensive assistant Tanya Walter. The NFL had a dozen female coaches in the 2021/22 season.

And a woman, Kim Ng, is the general manager of baseball’s Florida Marlins.

In terms of mixed hiring, the Institute for Ethics and Diversity in Sports ranks the National Basketball Association first among the four major men’s professional leagues.

The trend started with the hiring of Becky Hammond as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, which made its first female coach in one of the big four professional leagues.

Kim Ng, general manager of baseball’s Miami Marlins, is seen before a game against the Seattle Mariners on April 29. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

For women in these positions, it’s been a long road and many still face barriers and discrimination that their male colleagues don’t.

Thinking back to the early parts of her career, Tanya Walter remembered resistance from some male coaches.

“I’ve had coaches who flat out refused to shake my hand when I started coaching,” she said.

“We never ask that of male coaches”

This is Walter’s first season with the BC Lions.

Growing up in Forestburg, Alberta, his favorite sport was not football, but basketball. She says she was often told she was too aggressive on the pitch. This aggression worked well on the football field, however.

She began playing with the Edmonton Storm of the Canadian Women’s Football League West, qualifying for Team Alberta and Team Canada. The latter won a silver medal at the 2017 International Federation of American Football World Championships.

Despite those qualifications, Walter says, she still faces criticism from BC Lions fans who say she doesn’t belong.

“A lot of people say, ‘She has no experience. She hasn’t played in the CFL,'” Walter said. “And the reality is, not every coach has played in the CFL, and you never ask that of male coaches. Look what I’ve done before you say I don’t know what I’m doing – judge- me on the job.”

BC Lions defensive assistant Tanya Walter says early in her career some male coaches refused to even shake her hand. (Lyndsay Duncombe/CBC)

Some fans may be skeptical, but gamers are not. Lions defensive back Austin Joyner respects Walter’s qualifications and skills.

“She had to work harder than the men to get the same thing,” he said.

Building Resilience

The fact that women have had to overcome many hurdles to get into top positions in sport may be precisely why they are valuable, said Ann Pegoraro, co-director of the National Gender Equity Research Network. in Canadian sport and a professor of sport management. at the University of Guelph.

Adversity leads to resilience, she explains.

“When something happens at work, they’re not going to hunker down and go home. They’re going to be able to deal with it, because they’ve dealt with it all their life,” Pegoraro said.

These experiences also mean that women often view risk differently than men, Pegoraro said, weighing the alternatives in ways that men might not. “A mistake for women costs much more than for men.”

Pegoraro says a male coach who loses games and gets fired is likely to have a large network to help land him a new high-paying gig. Women don’t have that support, at least not yet.

She said sports clubs need a balance in decision-making styles, which will lead to better results on the pitch and in the front office.

“The way these teams are going to draft [players]how they’re going to build their business models is going to change because they have diverse voices within their organizations.”

That’s what the Vancouver Canucks are counting on.

“I absolutely think if you keep hiring the same minds, you’re not going to get growth,” Granato said.

She may not have won the lottery she dreamed of when she was little, but who knows, maybe she will still win a Stanley Cup.

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