Women In Sports Tech, a nonprofit organization aimed at expanding career opportunities and enhancing pathways for women throughout the sports technology industry, has welcomed 15 new partners this year. The collaboration will cumulatively expand opportunities through fellowships, mentoring and other initiatives for women of all backgrounds and ages interested in the field, accelerating and widening work possibilities for women while helping to narrow the currently disparate work opportunities women face. There are a total of 23 WiST partners, and they include companies such as the Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Accelerator, IBM Sports, Nike, NBA/WNBA and AEG Worldwide.
The partner investments, which total nearly $1 million, are designed to diversify pathways for women and ultimately lead to more women gaining and retaining work. The program allows people to carry on their passion for sports while marrying it to their interest in STEM. It exposes participants to a number of specialties related to sports technology—an industry expected to reach $30 billion by 2024—including data science, artificial intelligence, engineering, analytics, biometrics, biomechanics and product development. Opening the doors for women, who currently make up less than 24% of those in the tech industry, will help shift the landscape and tackle the growing gender disparity, which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Research shows the gender gap has grown by 36 years in 12 months and may take over 130 years to rectify.
“WiST is an impressive organization that we are proud to support and we are excited to have a fellow join our SportsTech Accelerator team this summer,” said Jenna Kurath, Vice-President of Startup Partner Development and Head of SportsTech & The Farm at Comcast. Comcast is a new WiST partner, and it aims to show young women that they can work in various sports sectors even if they are not athletes and not men. The Comcast fellows will work on vetting the thousands of startups from around the world that apply to be part of Comcast’s Accelerator program. “One of the things we noticed early on was the percentage of female founders was particular low compared to what we were expecting within the industry itself, and so this opportunity for the fellowship will be to actually join our deal sourcing team,” Kurath said. In this role, the women will evaluate companies for their products, technology and more, in an effort to choose the right ones for Comcast’s sports partners.
General membership with WiST is free and its network career hub provides women with education on niches in the sports technology industry, allows employers to post jobs and search for candidates and offers candidates member profiles for potential discovery by interested employers such as Nike, Oracle, NBA/WNBA and more. Going on four years, the program also offers fellowships—which saw a 194% rise in applications in 2021—to female undergraduate and graduate students in the U.S. The 23 corporate partners each donated between $25,000 and $50,000, and from that funding each fellow receives $5,000 grants for a summer internship and $2,500 for travel and housing expenses. During its first year WiST had three students and this year they have a record 24 women.
Founder and CEO of WiST Marilou McFarlane said a goal is to have employers change their ratio, “but it goes beyond that. What we really want to do is impact and influence culture. It doesn’t matter if you just check a box and bring in the lonely only,” she said. “We want to help employers understand the importance of diversity, and really inclusion in terms of culture.”
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Both gender and racial inclusion are priorities for WiST. Almost 60% of this year’s fellows are women of color and in Fall 2020 the organization partnered with the Southwest Athletic Conference, a collegiate conference of historically Black universities to ensure equal opportunities.
IBM Sports was WiST’s first corporate partner. They became involved because “diversity and inclusion are inherent in IBM’s core values,” Elizabeth O’Brien, Head of Sports Partnerships at IBM said. She underscored the leadership and drive of the young women as impressive. The company’s support of WiST has only grown stronger and it doubled its donation amount in 2020.
Jenna Kurath hopes the content inspires women and shows them, “my love of sports, my love of math, my love of science, these are all interconnected.” By introducing students to early career mentors and showing them the achievements of someone close in age, “it feels attainable,” she said.