While in Las Vegas for its annual NHL Awards event celebrating last year’s top players, the league also took the time to examine its future, with a focus on advancing diversity and gender equality across hockey.
The NHL held its inaugural diversity summit, which featured several announcements and panels, including tennis great Billie Jean King Officially titled “Declaring our Principles – Advancing Equity: A Summit on Inclusion,” the NHL announced a partnership with the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, while featuring a chat between NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and King, moderated by Kim Davis, NHL vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs.
Also announced was the Diversity and Inclusion Senior Leadership Council, co-chaired by Bettman and Buffalo Sabres owner Kim Pegula, and the Female Hockey Ambassador Program.
“We can make a difference in people’s lives because we have the platform,” Bettman said during his chat with King. “But I also think we have an obligation as sports to let people be the best they can be. It’s about what we all have in common, not what separates us. To understand that there are particular segments of society that have been left behind, we have the opportunity to elevate and bring more people together.”
Bettman went on to detail his 26 years as league commissioner, expanding on Davis’ mention of his saying, “the riskiest thing you can do is maintain the status quo,” explaining how much has changed over the time.
“You can’t live by what you were doing 25 years ago, 10 years ago, even last week,” he said. “You have to be open, that’s why. It’s so important because together we need to evolve, learn from each other and offer each other opportunities and be better than we would be if we just stayed in our lanes.”
The partnership between the league and King’s foundation will focus on research, action, advocacy and organizational collaboration to help impact the community, including a goal to elevate the league’s “Hockey is For Everyone” campaign.
Bettman told King she’s the most important person in sports for her efforts fighting for equity over the past half-century. King went on to discuss her journey and why it’s important.
“We’re all supposed to be so excited when we get the crumbs,” King said of women. “But every human being deserves the cake, the icing and the cherry on top. We need everyone working together, helping each other to make this happen. History, when you read it goes by fast, but when you live it, it’s very slow.”
The league has hired two women as senior executives, Davis in November 2017 and Heidi Browning as CMO in September 2016. When asked about the significance of hiring women in those roles, both King and Bettman talked about the importance of hiring for potential and not about past accomplishes – neither Davis and Browning had served as executives in hockey prior to joining the league.
“It means I hired the two best people I could find; nothing to do with because they were women,” he said. “It’s because they’re great at what they do and have the potential to integrate everything [they] knew from other spheres into hockey and [they’ve] done it masterfully over the last two to three years.”
The Diversity and Inclusion Senior Leadership Council will focus on workplace culture initiatives and employee engagement programs within the NHL, while the Female Hockey Ambassador Program will provide NHL organizations funding and ideas on how to use female hockey ambassadors as liaisons to women and girls hockey players and fans through projects like promotions or grassroots marketing. The ambassadors will be either current or former women’s national team members, elite-level players or coaches.
“The NHL/NHLPA Female Hockey Ambassador Program will enhance the opportunities for women hockey leaders to participate as ambassadors in NHL club programs that are in place to grow the game,” said Maria Dennis, chair of the Female Hockey Advisory Committee created by the league and NHLPA earlier this year. “When young girls meet their role models and see first-hand what women can achieve in hockey, they will know there is no barrier for them participating in the sport as well.”
Along with hoping to see more young girls and women playing the game, Bettmanr was bullish on his desire to see more women working across the league, and sports in general, as he believes it will make the business and game stronger.
To that point, Bettman told King more than 45% of NHL fans are women.
“That equals potential to me,” she said.