In January of 2021, there was big news concerning the NFL’s Super Bowl. Sarah Thomas — the first woman to officiate a major college football game, the first to officiate a bowl game, the first to officiate in a Big Ten stadium, the first full-time female official in NFL history and the first to officiate an NFL playoff game — was named to the referee crew for the 2021 Super Bowl, having officiated NFL games since 2015.
Talk about a glass ceiling being smashed! This put a woman squarely in the arena of what has traditionally been a men-only sport.
As Thomas told Steve Wyche of NFL NFL Total Access, “If you grade out at the top of your game, and that’s what I want to do, every game I want to be at the top of my game, if that puts me #1 to work a Super Bowl, I want to earn it and I want to be there.”
Thomas definitely earned it and definitely deserved to be there. For women officials everywhere, it was about time!
Many new days and groundbreaking “firsts”
In addition to Thomas’s history-making appointment, there have been other “firsts” for women in recent years, namely the inauguration of our new Madam Vice President, Kamala Harris in 2021: the first woman vice president, the first Black vice president and the first vice president of South Asian descent. Since then, little girls and also little boys around the world can look to Harris and know that yes, anything is possible.
An administration formed to look like America, which includes women
However, Kamala Harris is not the only “first woman” in Joe Biden’s cabinet. On Day One of the new administration, the US Senate confirmed Avril Haines (by an 84-to-10 vote) as Director of National Intelligence. As The Washington Post reports: “Haines is the first woman to serve in the position. She was also among the first Cabinet nominees Biden announced, signaling that he intends for her to serve as the principal leader and public face of the spy agencies.”
And the list goes on. In fact,THE HILL’s November 22nd headline proclaimed: “Women set to take key roles in the Biden administration.” Case in point: “Fifty-three percent of the Biden-Harris senior transition team are women” and more than “half of the 500 people serving on Biden’s government agency review team are women,” THE HILL states.
But if we really want to talk historic, just take a look at President Biden’s appointees for cabinet and senior advisor positions. A large number of them are women, which I highlight here:
- Janet Yellen, Treasury Secretary. Ms. Yellen is the first woman to lead the Treasury in its 231-year history. Under Presidents Obama and Trump, she was the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve.
- Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior. Ms. Haaland is the first Native American appointed to a cabinet secretary position. In 2018, she was one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress.
- Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Commerce. Before becoming governor of Rhode Island in 2015, Ms. Raimondo served as general treasurer of Rhode Island and founded a joint venture firm that helped finance a number of start-ups.
- Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.N. Ambassador. Ms. Thomas-Greenfield has 35+ years’ experience in the Foreign Service, as the U.S. ambassador to Liberia and serving in posts in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, Gambia, Nigeria and Jamaica.
- Katherine Tai, U.S. Trade Representative. Ms. Tai, who is Asian-American, is the first woman of color in this position.
- Susan Rice, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. A former national security adviser to President Obama, Ms. Rice also served as an assistant secretary of state and ambassador to the United Nations.
- Marcia L. Fudge, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. A Democratic Congresswoman from Ohio, Ms. Fudge was also a chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
- Jennifer M. Granholm, Secretary of Energy. A former governor of Michigan, Ms. Granholm is widely credited with steering Michigan through the 2008 recession and working with the Obama administration on the federal bailout of the auto industry.
Without a doubt, this list confirms that women are finally being recognized for their achievements, their smarts, their experience, their decision-making and their leadership ability in male-dominated fields. That presents an interesting dynamic, one that this country and the whole world is watching. Will having women in these high-visibility roles lead to better solutions? More collaboration? Better outcomes? We shall see.
Time to rethink women in non-traditional roles
Andi Simon, PhD (my wife), founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants, has just written a book, “Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business,” about women successfully entering fields that traditionally discouraged them to do so. The book tells the stories of 11 exceptional women (including Andi) who refused to be held back by what society told them they could and could not achieve. While pursuing their dreams, each of them ran into gender-biased roadblocks and outdated myths that attempted to squash their ambitions. But instead of backing down, what did they do? They pushed forward, they leapt over those barriers, until they achieved what they knew they could all along.
Let’s face it. The way that women are perceived, professional and otherwise, is quite different from their male counterparts. It’s not right, it’s not accurate, it’s not productive. But guess what? It’s changing. It sure did take a long time, but as they say, better late than never.
To read more about women successfully breaking into a man’s world
- Move Over Boys, Smart Capable Women Are Refusing To Be Held Back
- No Women Coaches In The NBA? Yeah, Becky Hammon Changed That.
- Do Women In Sports Know How To Smash Myths? You Betcha
In business, in sports, everywhere, women are smashing myths
This is an exciting time. Change is all around us. This is a good thing. We’re being forced to look at the world through fresh eyes and rethink the way things ought to be, which is long overdue. To kickstart your own reassessment of what you want to accomplish in your life, I recommend reading my wife’s book, which you can order here. Like the trailblazing women I talked about above, if you can dream it, you can do it!
From Observation to Innovation,
Partner, Simon Associates Management Consultants