by Dawna Callahan, Founder & CEO
All In Sport Consulting, LLC
Many of you may have probably heard or watched Muffet McGraw’s press conference during the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four when she was asked about gender equity in sport. The first time I heard her response, I exclaimed, “YES!” Thank you, Coach McGraw for your bold, fearless and unapologetic leadership – for sharing your thoughts that have reignited important conversations around the country.
One of her comments was, “Men run the world. Men have the power. Men make the decisions. It’s always the men that are the stronger ones.” This claim made me think about the adaptive sport movement – are those without disabilities in charge and leading the movement? Wouldn’t it make more sense if people with disabilities were actually in leadership roles?
I think these are questions the disabled community needs to start asking in order to start shifting the narrative that puts people with disabilities in the positions of power and decision making. After all, isn’t EMPOWERMENT one of the regularly stated outcomes of adaptive sport participation?
Why are so many leadership roles within disability sport organizations not filled with people with disabilities? Don’t get me wrong, many of my mentors in the industry do not have a disability, and I respect and appreciate their leadership and years of experience in the movement. Without their guidance, I would not be in the place of leadership and empowerment that I am today. And because of their steadfast mentorship, they are likely not surprised that I am asking these very important questions specific to leadership in our movement. Over the years, they have become very familiar with my PASSION and drive for advocacy for people with disabilities, specifically in the space of disability sport.
People with disabilities who choose to advocate become the voice for what we want – in all aspects of our lives, including sport participation. We need to lead the vision for the adaptive sport movement in our country. Who would know more about what is needed than those with a disability? As Blogger and Disability Advocate Emily Ladau noted, “It is nothing about us, without us.” Without impactful leadership and influence from the disability community, how do disability sport organizations know how best to serve the population?
In looking at the next generation, young people with disabilities need positive role models. They need to see people with disabilities in influential leadership positions who look like them. With these role models, young leaders will believe that they can lead the charge for change.
So, where do we begin? I think it starts with a dialog and asking some important questions. What are we doing as an industry to build a community that is representative of the population we serve? What are the challenges in doing so? How do you find the qualified talent that is also representative of the population? These leaders are out there – it just might take a little bit more time to find them. Be creative in your hiring strategies and plan for extra time to find that person or people who can bring invaluable perspective to your organization, ultimately elevating the experience for everyone involved.
Let’s continue the conversation…what is your organization doing at the leadership level to represent and reflect the population we serve? What examples of progress have you seen in our industry and how can we do better?