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Meet the First Woman to Head a Major Professional Sports Union in the U.S.

Photo: Courtesy of NBPA

Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, discusses her career path and how to break the glass ceiling.

What does it mean to you to make history as the first woman to head a major professional sports union in North America?

Candidly, when I was initially selected for the position, while the fact that I was “the first” was not lost on me, the significance of what it would mean to others was. I was certainly proud of the accomplishment, but failed to appreciate how others – particularly other women, young girls and, most interestingly to me, the fathers of young girls – received the news. As for the dads, they shared with me their gratitude for further ammunition they could use to assure their daughters that mountains were made to be climbed.

What has your professional leadership path looked like?

Like any ultimate success, it necessarily begins with (and never stops including) hard work.  Putting in the work to learn and ultimately become an expert is a precondition to being able to legitimately and convincingly lead. I spent my early days as an attorney trying to absorb as much as I could about what would lead to success for my clients. I never believed I had learned enough. It has been my lifelong mantra to “be even better.”

What advice do you have for women looking to crack the glass ceiling?

Spend as little time as possible focusing on the obstacles – they are a distraction. Work hard enough to not merely crack, but shatter that ceiling.

Was there a time in your life where people have underestimated you?

There has never been a time in my life when people have not underestimated me. Happily, over the years, the number and frequency has diminished.

What do you feel is the importance of incorporating those with diverse backgrounds into business?

I am unaware of any business on this planet whose customers and constituencies are limited to one sex, race, or gender. It would, therefore, stand to reason that any business which seeks to be successful and appeal to a diversity of consumers would incorporate into its business team(s) staff with diverse backgrounds and life experiences.

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