Breaking Gender Barriers in Sports – Kim Ng Becomes MLB’s First Female GM

A view of a baseball game from the worst seats

Gender gaps in sports are well recognized and have plagued major leagues since their inception. But did you know none of the four major professional sports leagues has ever previously had a female general manager? Fortunately, that has finally changed with the Miami Marlin’s announcement of Kim Ng as its new GM. After three decades of struggle to attain such a position, Ng has now realized a dream she thought was impossible. In fact, it was something many in major league sports believed would never occur.

Over the last few decades, diversity in sports has been improving. NASCAR, MLB, PGA, and the USTA all now have diversity and inclusion officers or programs. These advances toward inclusion are having a growing impact on sports in general. Team cultures improve with greater diversity, and innovation and performance also thrive. But diversity in sports has an even larger impact when it comes to breaking down gender barriers in sports. As Ng shows, these barriers are incredibly difficult to overcome. But with a bold commitment to the goal, anything is possible.

“The last 72 hours have been extraordinary for me…It made me realize that it really was a glimmer of hope and inspiration for so many, that if you work hard and you persevere and you’re driven and you just keep going that eventually your dream will come true.” – Kim Ng, Newly appointed General Manager, Miami Marlins

Who Is Kim Ng?

In the sports world, household names tend to be those of incredibly gifted athletes and players. But if anyone in sports management deserves widespread recognition, it’s certainly Ng. Her journey to become MLB’s first female GM began in 1990 when she took a position as an intern with the Chicago White Sox. In a brief time, she advanced to a full-time analyst position, and then to assistant director of baseball operations. Her baseball prowess subsequently awarded her the assistant GM position at the New York Yankees and later the L.A. Dodgers. And since 2011, she has served as the Senior VP of baseball operations for MLB. It’s a resume that normally should impress anyone.

Kim Ng from MLB's Instagram
A major gender barrier in sports has been broken! (Photo courtesy of Instagram)

Despite her accomplishments in a league dominated by men, Ng was committed to attaining a GM position. Diversity in sports was slowly improving, but breaking gender barriers in sports, especially baseball, would be tougher. She put her hat into the ring half a dozen times since 2005 for a GM position. The teams where she interviewed included the Dodgers, Padres, Mariners, Angels and Giants. But each time, she was turned away, and teams gave the position to a White male colleague. At the age of 52 years, Ng saw her opportunities dwindling, especially since recent trends are seeing younger GM hires. But she persisted in the pursuit of her goal, and her perseverance finally paid off.

“[Kim Ng] terminated once and for all the idea that sports leadership requires some tribal-magic inner maleness, some secret passcode acquired from having ‘played the game.” – Sally Jenkins, Sports Columnist, Washington Post

Overcoming Gender Barriers in Sports

Notably, diversity in sports has improved, but at the same time, it has a long way to go. This is especially true in management and coaching positions that have been slow to change. This is particularly true for gender barriers in sports as a number of biases against women often exist. In baseball, women are often ignored for such position because they lack baseball playing experience. Other prejudices exclude them because they see them as being too emotional or lacking sports knowledge. Of course, none of these are true, but they exist nonetheless. And these are the gender barriers in sports that Ng has battled all her life.

In order to overcome these gender barriers in sports, it tends to take exceptional talent. In MLB, this was perhaps most evident when Jackie Robinson broke racial diversity barriers into the sport. He became a league MVP overnight because his baseball skills were head and shoulder above others. But it required such talent to get the attention of others in embracing greater diversity in sports. Many believe Ng has this same level of skill when it comes to general management in baseball. And if this is the case, the Miami Marlins will certainly reap the benefits with her bold leadership.

“I congratulate the Marlins – that after a remarkable season, during extraordinary times – they have broken a barrier that needed shattering.” – Jean Afterman, Assistant GM, New York Yankees

The Potential for a Major Paradigm Shift

Think about when other barriers have been shattered to allow greater diversity in sports. Racial diversity has changed the landscape in a variety of sports including baseball and football. Likewise, overcoming gender barriers in sports has also made large impacts. Women’s basketball and soccer are great examples of this. Therefore, Ng’s bold achievement as the first GM in major league baseball could usher in a similar era. With her success, women could finally be serious contenders for C-level positions in sports. And with such a change, the potential for incredible progress in all sports could soon be realized.

Female leadership often takes a different approach to problems that can lead to tremendous success. This would be a refreshing development in male-dominated sports leagues like MLB. While MLB’s diversity in sports rating has improved in recent years, it still receives low marks overall. The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports gave MLB a “C” grade in 2018, which improved slightly to a “B” in 2019. Overcoming gender barriers in sports positions in management would help this greatly. This is why NG’s achievement could truly be a tipping point for needed change.

Diversity in Sports Is a Competitive Edge

It would appear that MLB is aware that innovation is needed in order to be competitive. In addition to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, MLB is considering robotic umpires in the future. But one of the best ways to introduce innovation and creativity is through diversity and inclusion measures. At the same time, diversity in sports encourages respect among players and greater teamwork. There’s little doubt that Kim Ng’s ability to overcome gender barriers in sports will have important broad impacts. And hopefully, stories of a women attaining a top-level executive position in sports will no longer be major news.

 

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