Nearly 20 years ago, back in 1993, Sue Rodin was working at a small sports marketing agency and was the only female executive. After a few years with the agency it became apparent that there was a significant wage gap between Rodin and her male counterparts. At the time she didn’t know of many females working in business-like and executive positions within the sports industry. When searching for help with the problems she noticed women faced in the male-dominated industry, she realized she didn’t know of anyone she could turn to for help. Sue Rodin took matters into her own hands, and in 1993 founded WISE.
“WISE stands for ‘women in sports and events’. It’s a professional organization, tailored to women who work in the sports industry. And it’s a professional group that has a full menu of programs and events, with the purpose of helping women in this field, we position ourselves as the voice and resource for women in the business of sports and that’s sort of our mission statement, if you will,” explained Rodin. Although she resolved the initial issues with her original agency, it left her wondering if there was an organization for women who worked in the sports industry to provide counsel and advice.
In the fall of 1993, along with four other women, Rodin decided it was time to find out if there was any real interest in an organization to provide such support for women in the sports industry. The group planned an informal breakfast at Mickey Mantle’s Sports Bar in Manhattan. They sent out letters to everyone they knew, not knowing if it would be just the five women or more, they planned and organized the informal meeting, and that morning 60 women showed up. It was clear there was a hunger for an organization to support women in the male-dominated industry. The group knew this wasn’t just something that people wanted, but a need that had to be fulfilled. The group began meeting at Mickey Mantles about once a month, incorporating guest speakers and growing their network.
“We were happy to have these ongoing get togethers and speakers and meet people, etc. And so over time, the organization grew organically, and it began to get more formalized, we created a board and bylaws and more governance… the organization grew and grew and we were all volunteers,” mentioned Rodin, who served as the president of WISE for 17 years before passing the crown to the current president, Kathleen Francis.
As the organization grew in numbers so did its agenda. WISE began hosting mentoring programs, guest speakers, symposiums and luncheons. As the group garnered more interest, chapters began forming across the US including in Cleveland, Washington DC, and stretching throughout to the west coast. Programs like WISE/R Symposium, a seminar focused on the personal and professional development of women in sports business, formed and The WISE Woman of The Year, an award, was created to highlight and honor exceptional women in the sports industry. Past WISE Women of the Year include Sara Levinson, and honorees like Billie Jean King and Robin Roberts.
With the pandemic still ongoing a majority of WISE’s usual programs have had to be postponed. The organization has been functioning predominantly online, with some of their events held virtually. The organization’s website WISEworks.org has been the center for all their information and projects, “WISE works has been one of our taglines because we wanted to distinguish ourselves from other organizations, [like] the Women’s Sports Foundation for example, which we support, focuses on girls and women participating in sports and more the athletic side and fitness side. We’re about women in the workplace of the sports industry. So WISE works is sort of a play on words,” explained Rodin.
Despite initial obstacles and new challenges posed by Covid, WISE has continued to grow and help women across the country break into the sports industry as well as provide them with the mentorship, aid, and information they need to further their careers. The group hopes to continue to pave the path for more women to come, turning a once male-dominated industry into an inclusive space where all can prosper.