On Thursday night, the Lynx honored four incredible community members who are at the frontlines of fighting for gender equality and representation in male-dominated industries.
At the Second-Annual Women’s Spotlight Event, Sarah Rasmussen, Sianneh Mulbah, Tawanna Black, and Kelly Kleine were recognized as trailblazing leaders, as role models for future generations, and as engaged and important members of the Twin Cities community.
The event was held at Brave New Workshop, and featured remarks by Lynx center Sylvia Fowles and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. The honorees were each introduced and answered brief questions from host Margi Simmons, before participating in a panel discussion. The women recognized are all leaders in different fields, but they share many things in common—a dedication to an equal and equitable future, and a belief in their ability to push society forward.
Rasmussen is the Artistic Director at Jungle Theater. She was the first board-appointed Artistic Director of a theater company in the Twin Cities. As Artistic Director, Rasmussen is focused on promoting and creating work with female characters that exhibit complexity and tell stories beyond those explicitly related to their gender.
“Women have never held more than 20-percent of the Artistic Director jobs in our nation, so I have the chance right now to create space for other women artists to mentor the next generation of women leaders, to bring great female directors to our stage, to bring great stories about women characters to our stage,” she said. “It feels like a very powerful time to be getting the chance to create space for other women.”
At Thursday’s event, Rasmussen talked about her desire to put female characters on stage that both men and women can see themselves in—this important work emphasizes human traits rather than boxing characters into being defined by their gender. It is also important to Rasmussen to provide roles for women behind the scenes, where women are highly underrepresented.
Mulbah is the Vice President of Human Resources with the Timberwolves and Lynx. Her role with the organization is essential in building a workplace that is not only free from harassment and gender discrimination, but one where women are supported and given opportunities to lead.
“Working in an industry that is primarily male-dominated has really pushed me to be more assertive, not only for myself, but for my department and the employees within our organization,” said Mulbah. “What encourages me about the future is the workforce we have coming in. I feel like there’s a lot of activism and the people coming into the workforce, our younger generation, that want to be heard, want their voices to be heard, and that in the workplace is going to change and evolve everything that we do today.”
As VP of Human Resources, Mulbah helped the organization adopt a policy of six-week paid parental leave. This policy supports young mothers and makes it clear that women in the organization do not have to make a choice between their career and their family. Mulbah has grown as a leader throughout her time with the Timberwolves and Lynx and places an emphasis on candor and honesty both with others and with herself. She drew a distinction between being a manager and being a leader—two tasks that require different approaches.
Black is the Executive Director at Northside Funders Group and CEO for the Center for Economic Inclusion. Her work aims at fighting inequity and building strong and resilient communities through economic development and cross-sector collaboration. Black is keenly aware of the importance of a strong regional economy in building communities where everyone has equal opportunities to succeed. In her remarks, she stressed the importance of partnerships between men and women who are both committed to supporting the goals of younger women, regardless of whether those goals reflect traditional gender roles.
“I have a responsibility to be me all the time, and to own the spaces that I have a privilege and an opportunity to sit at,” said Black. “Women have everything that it takes to lead and yet we do bring some things that are unique to leadership.”
Black’s focus on partnership and communication is evident throughout all her work and in her leadership style—both in her organization and in other areas of her life. Black also encouraged women to apply for positions, even if they might not meet all the qualifications—data shows that men engage in this practice all the time, but women are far less likely to do so.
“My thought process is always, own the space. Walk into the space and own it, remember that you are here because you have something valuable to add, so walk into the space remembering that,” she said.
Kleine is the College Scouting Coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings. In an industry that is highly dominated by men, Kleine has carved out her place as an essential member of the Vikings’ scouting staff.
“Being a female, it is new for some guys when I’m on the road, when I’m at pro days, All Star Games, there’s no other females there,” she said. “I hope that change is coming, but I think they’re getting used to it, and now a lot of the guys around the league know me.”
Kleine discussed how important it is for women in male-dominated workplaces to put themselves forward and ask for more responsibility.
“I think some people don’t take women seriously because they don’t trust them,” Kleine continued. “So you have to come in, you have to be bold, you have to prove to them, look I’m here to do my job, that’s the only reason I’m here. That’s the being bold part, is standing up for yourself and saying, ‘I’m not here to screw around.’”
Kleine has been supported by her male bosses at the Vikings, but taking a risk and asking, for instance, if she could go on the road to scout college players, a practice that is currently performed almost entirely by men, has been an important factor in her career development. Kleine also underscored the necessity of finding female mentors in the organization and being a mentor herself when the time came.
While the sports world has made progress in supporting women to careers in athletics, most organizations are still highly dominated by men, especially in leadership. Being a pioneer is difficult, and the strength required to do the work these women do cannot be overstated. Diversity in leadership breeds inclusion and equality and is an essential element in building strong and resilient organizations. The 2018 Women’s Spotlight Event honorees are people who any organization would be lucky to have in leadership roles. They completely deserve recognition, but it’s equally important that we work towards a future where women working in sports, institutional policies that support women, and women in leadership positions across industries is the norm rather than the exception. Last night’s event was an inspiring indicator of how far we’ve come, but it was also a reminder of how much work remains to be done.