I Want Your Job: Laurel Richie, President Of The WNBA
Welcome to “I Want Your Job,” Elite Daily’s new series that inspires females to go after their professional and personal dreams. We’ve teamed up with the most inspiring Millennial women who’ve made a name for themselves doing everything from tech design to owning a restaurant to bring you a taste of what being a Boss Lady in every industry really looks like.
These women never gave up on their dreams, never let a man tell them “no” and aren’t backing down for anybody. If you want her job, here’s how to get it.
When I got off the phone with Laurel Richie, President of the Women's National Basketball Association, I felt like what I imagine meeting the President of the United States feels like (which Richie, in fact, has). The women’s advocate and impressive role model doesn’t just run a major organization, she lives by its mission to “show the world what is possible.”
It's exactly how I felt after speaking with her -- like I could set out to do anything.
Laurel doesn’t hold the kind of job most of us typically dream about when we’re younger, and neither did she.
“If you asked me in my 20s if I would be running a major professional sports league, it wasn’t even on the horizon. But my professional career has been all about my passion for women, marketing to women, marketing women products.”
From college to WNBA President, Laurel’s ascent feels pretty natural, which is refreshing for our generation of aspiring female students (notably, all of the US WNBA players have been through a four-year college and hold high-achieving jobs).
As for herself, Laurel was a policy studies major in college because she liked learning about how people make choices. “No matter what I do and where I go, having an understanding of how people make decisions is handy,” she says.
This part of her curriculum helped prepare Laurel for her current position, which is surprisingly very far from the regular sits-behind-a-desk-and-delegates, 9-to-5 job we all think of when we hear the term "CEO."
“My days aren’t stressful, they are just very, very busy,” explains Laurel. “There is no such thing as a typical day. That is one of the things I like about this work.” Her schedule spans such a remarkable range of activities that, when she describes just one snapshot of her day, she already has me feeling lazy.
“I’ll have a conversation with one of our owners or presidents. We’ll think about the business, whether it’s how to engage fans in membership programs or potential partnerships they’re having.
"I spend a fair amount of time with the team here at our league offices, across all markets. I work on player relations, integrating work across the league on behalf of the teams,” she adds.
And if you think she’s just referring to the WNBA’s recently completed 18th season, you’re wrong. Laurel has her sights on the organization’s 20th season and beyond (and here, we’re just trying to decipher what we want for lunch…).
You might have even caught her on television, commenting on the season. “I spend a little bit of my time with media doing interviews or talking about the seasons, talking about the prospects of who we’re looking forward to joining the league. It’s really a broad smattering.”
Laurel even manages to also find time to speak with the fans. “I’ll have conversations with fans who are very passionate and knowledgeable. They call with ideas and suggestions,” she explains.
Laurel is basically the game-maker for the WNBA -- she runs the field, with her hand in very different baskets, and then brings it all together for one final slam dunk. “It keeps it exciting. There’s a certain regularity to it and then there’s a heavy dose of spontaneity.”
Spontaneity doesn’t even come close to describing Laurel’s jam-packed days. But with her multiple responsibilities also comes a lot of sweet perks. Laurel spends a significant amount of time on the road, traveling to each market for all-star games and drafts.
“I really love the WNBA games,” she confesses. “The fact that my job requires that I go to WNBA games is the greatest thing in the whole world.” What’s not to enjoy about a perfect night out watching some competitive ball?
“I love the arena,” shares Laurel. “I love the vibe, the diverse fan base, being with the fans and basketball fanatics. I really love the environment of the game.” Her description makes us want to grab a hotdog and jerseys right now.
No matter how busy Laurel’s schedule is, however, her dedication to women and responsibility as a female leader in a women’s league is not lost on her. “I spend a lot of time thinking how to leave the world a better place for young girls,” notes Laurel.
Her 9-year-old niece, Ella, in particular, serves as inspiration for Laurel’s female-focused WNBA initiatives, and her desire to help redefine the concept of femininity.
She shares with me another TED-talk worthy anecdote, “I asked her if I could take a picture to put in my presentations, and she came downstairs in her Chicago Sky t-shirt and brand new pair of Mary Janes.
I remember looking at her thinking how wonderful that a 9-year-old girl believes she can be a huge fan of sports, play multiple sports, and the notion of her favorite sports team and favorite Mary Janes was that there is nothing incongruous; that’s how life works.”
Laurel largely credits her niece’s perspective to the time she spends with the WNBA players in the locker room, adding, “They are multi-faceted young women.”
Laurel also brings her passion for women on industry level, as a female president of an organization, and awareness of the fact there are fewer women in her space at senior levels. “I embrace the opportunity and the honor of being at the forefront of opening an industry, and I hope there will be other women who follow. What’s really nice is that it's beginning to happen.”
In fact, for three out of the 12 teams, the ownership group includes women -- that’s one-quarter of the league.
Being President of the WNBA perfectly encapsulates Laurel’s innate devotion to women and thirst for broadening horizons and opening doors. “At the end of the day, when you follow your passion, more often than not, good things happen,” she profoundly states. It really seems as if Laurel were made for this empowering position.
Interestingly, she kind of was. Thanks largely in part to her parents’ strong upbringing in the midst of the Civil Rights Era.
After marching on Washington and hearing Martin Luther King deliver his speech on his vision of America, Laurel’s parents decided they wanted to partake in bringing that vision of America together and moved into an all-white neighborhood.
The owners of the land wouldn’t even sell it to a black family, so her determined parents had their white friends purchase (and then resell) the plot to them. Her family’s resolution and courage to pioneer a new trail is practically ingrained in Richie now.
“In retrospect, I realize they were trailblazers and raised me [and her siblings] to really think about never being daunted by a challenge or embracing the notion of blazing new trails and being at the forefront of things,” shares Laurel. Their actions shaped her without her even knowing it. Being an empowering leader and groundbreaker is simply part of her DNA.
Feel inspired yet? Too blown away to speak?
Don’t worry, Laurel has some solid advice for women looking to do what she does. “Instead of making some big blanket statements, I try to break it down into smaller pieces and say, ‘At this point in time, I have a choice to make to just make in the moment the best choice that I can make.'”
Richie makes you feel like you really can do anything, even if it’s never been done before. You can play professional sports and still be a homemaker. You can love to shop and still be a kickass chemist. You can grow up as the minority and end up leading the majority.
As Richie eloquently puts it, “We’re striving to get to a place where no one feels like they have to make a choice.”
But, that said, if we had to choose, we're putting our money on Laurel.