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Breaking gender barriers in male-dominated sports

Blazing paths. Establishing leadership positions. These women have done it all.

"I don't allow the noise around me being a woman to take away my focus."

"Some of my worst failures have built my greatest successes."

"You don't get there alone."

Those are just some of the insights shared in this roundtable with Susie Wolff, Sarah Thomas, and Michele Roberts, all trailblazers in male-dominated sports. As part of a larger HPE initiative to inspire women and girls to pursue their passions through technology, this wide-ranging discussion, hosted by Shibani Joshi at HPE Discover 2021, touches on everything from breaking barriers and embracing failure to mentorship and thriving as a leader.

The drive to succeed

For Wolff, a former Formula One driver and now team principal of ROKiT Venturi Racing, becoming the first women to lead a Formula E team was a natural progression in a career path that started at a young age, when she began racing go-karts alongside her brother, sparking her competitive streak. Wolff says she was fortunate to find her passion early on, supported by her mother, who also raced and owned her own business.

While Wolff says she embraces her role and the opportunity to inspire other women and bring more diversity to racing, she goes to work each day focused on being the best she can be in her sport: "All that matters is your performance. That's what I love above sports."

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Thomas, the first woman to become a full-time NFL officiator and the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl game, says she too grew up in a household with brothers and no gender barriers—and where she also had strong women to lean on. Lacking role models in her sport, Thomas says she faced a "huge learning curve." But when she hit a wall, that only got her "competitive juices" flowing and made her work harder.

"Competence equals confidence," she says.

As the first woman executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, Roberts also had to work hard to overcome obstacles and achieve her goals—an ethic instilled by her single mother.

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"The one thing [my mother] did for all of us was to say, 'Despite the fact that your growing up in the projects, I'm raising you alone, and we're relying on public assistance, not one of you has an excuse not to do well,'" Roberts says.

She adds, "The way she treated my sisters and I was, you especially have to work really hard to make sure you succeed because you're a girl. That doesn't mean you're inferior. That just means there are people who will treat you differently."

Do what you love

While all three of these women leaders have broken glass ceilings in pursuing their careers, in the end, that's not what it's about, they say. They advise other women in male-dominated fields to do what they love and to encourage others to do the same. The rest, they say—including greater representation and recognition—will follow.

As Thomas puts it, "I'm praying that one day my daughter will not have to ask, 'Can girls do that?' She'll just know she can."

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.