When the Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng as general manager in November 2020, the news was practically earth-shattering to Rhanee Palma, CDME.
The chief sales officer at Visit Oakland is a trailblazer in her own right—as a woman of Filipino descent rising to a CVB’s C-Suite. Naturally, Palma would be overwhelmed Ng would become Major League Baseball’s first woman general manager.
While there is some kinship there, Palma has a more personal reason to celebrate the momentous news. Gender stereotypes played a role in her career path, as Palma describes below in our talk with five preeminent women in sports tourism. Palma hopes Ng represents a chance to move past what is perceived women can and cannot do.
Sports tourism has unquestionably seen progress over the years, in large part to the efforts of, among others, Palma, Dallas Sports Commission Executive Director Monica Paul, Snohomish County Sports Commission Executive Director Tammy Dunn, CSEE, Greater Columbus Sports Commission Executive Director Linda Logan and Harris County—Houston Sports Authority CEO Janis Burke, CSEE.
They’ve traveled the hard road to the top so that others may follow. Ng’s rise to general manager is another step forward, they agree. But we have yet to reach full equality.
Read on for our conversation reflecting on the role of women in sports, and more specifically, sports tourism.
What was your initial reaction to Ng named general manager?
Rhanee Palma: This news came very close to home because I shifted my career trajectory because of gendered expectations. All throughout my childhood, I really wanted to become a sports journalist. Since I didn’t see any women in sports journalism or professional sports, I just accepted and assumed that this would never be a possibility for me. When I first read the news, I was overwhelmed with pride and joy for the many young girls and young women out there.
Linda Logan: I was so excited to hear about Kim Ng and joked to my husband that I will now have to like Marlins who beat my beloved Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the World Series in 1997! Seriously, I thought of Emily Jaeson and the good work she is doing with Minor League Baseball’s Reno Aces and other women that paved the way, including my friend Valerie Arcuri Bonicci, who spent many years as a senior executive with the Cleveland Indians.
Monica Paul: I am incredibly excited for Kim Ng and the powerful platform she now possesses. Ng is extraordinarily qualified for this position, and her new role has immense potential to empower and encourage young women everywhere who envision a future in sports. I know I’m personally encouraged and look forward to watching her continue to blaze an influential trail.
Janis Burke: I was thrilled to hear the news and had to smile as I thought about how far women have come in the sports industry. There was a time when this would have been inconceivable for women, but many females have paved the way and fought hard to ensure that this day could happen.
Where do we stand now as an industry with women in sports? What are some areas for improvement?
RP: Representation is a fantastic start. The areas to start for improvement are definitely with compensation and airtime. I also believe that systemic structures create an unequal system. There needs to be more work done to create more pathways for women to lead. There is also more work that needs to be done to value sports that are feminine like cheerleading. There needs to be more scholarships and just simple recognition that cheerleaders are actually athletes.
Tammy Dunn: More women are being recognized for their knowledge of sports and a leader in the business. There are several women who are helping to lead the way, especially broadcasters like Beth Mowin, Jessica Mendoza, Pam Ward and Doris Burke. We need to continue to encourage young women and girls that they can have a career in sports whether sports tourism, sports team and media.
LL: Kim Ng has taken a huge step into the future along a path built by generations of women who are cheering on her accomplishment. Can’t wait for the landslide.
MP: Though women with the talent and ambition to be leaders in sports still face challenges their male counterparts don’t, we are experiencing access to new opportunities those in past generations couldn’t have imagined. For that, I am truly grateful. And though inequities still exist in areas like pay parity and access, I believe women are on a path to power that could soon transform the sports world.
JB: As I contemplated what big news this was nationally and internationally, I wondered when the day would come that being a female in such a position would not be news at all. I believe that my daughters and granddaughters will see that time. Equality in salaries is another area that we can continue to work toward. Women tend to settle for less, because they are happy to just be at the table and asked to participate.
What do you attribute to your own success in the field?
RP: My success is from having strong mentors that are both women and men of all ethnicities, cultures and nationalities. My alliances have taught me how to navigate through environments I am not familiar with.
LL: Timing, hard work and opportunity and a genuine passion for the work.
TD: I attribute my own success is the willingness to learn from others by asking questions and reach out to others for guidance. Building relationships and partnerships is also a large part of being successful. I state that I am in the “relationship” business; not the “sales” business. I would like to know what the client needs for a successful event so that my organization can help the client to have a successful event.
MP: I’ve always placed value on hard work and challenge myself to be better each day. I’ve found that genuine enthusiasm can be contagious. I take great pride in securing big wins for Dallas and take my role as a woman within a male-dominated industry very seriously, as well as the opportunity I have to inspire other women, especially young ones. I also believe playing sports is inextricably linked to my leadership style, equipping me with confidence and a desire to be the best.
JB: Having pure grit and determination and working three times harder than anyone else I saw around me. I also have a great support system of people who encouraged and believed in me, including a reassuring and accommodating spouse.
What is the key to maintaining momentum and build a future when it's not news that a woman got a major job like this?
RP: I learned that the key to maintaining momentum is to not be happy with one success, but to look for the next major thing to accomplish. As Steve Jobs, said: “I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”
Also, it’s important to know that when you are a person that breaks barriers or are a first for something, it’s also important to make sure that you give back and pave the way for others. As Kamala Harris recently said in becoming the vice president-elect: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.”
LL: Great strides for women in sports, the White House and the C-Suite are huge motivators. Also, it is vital to encourage advocacy for women at a grassroots level as in my community where the Columbus Women’s Commission works every day to advance the economic well-being in Columbus that is focused on Gender Equity in the Workplace, Health, Housing and Workforce Development that will even the playing field one woman at a time.
TD: One of the keys to maintaining momentum is to keep building relationships and partnerships, be knowledgeable, and continue letting the media know that a woman was promoted to a key leadership position. Continue to work smart and work hard. Don’t stop telling our story.
MP: We must continue to recognize and celebrate the amazing courage, persistence and abilities of women who advance to shake up the world of sports. Together, we can shed stereotypes and shape platforms in a bid to build on recent momentum, opening up positive pathways for women and girls to become the next generation of bright stars in sports.
JB: My mother continually told me that I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to. Whether that was true or not, I soaked in every word and believed it. All children need reinforcing messaging, but it’s especially important for young girls to hear and see examples of women in leadership, so that they don’t limit themselves and set up false barriers that cap their highest potential.
Photo courtesy of Major League Baseball.