How To Make It As A Woman In The NFL
“Working at the NFL was the best training ground for my career. I was part of a team that was responsible for marketing a league of men playing the most watched sport in America,” says Constance Schwartz-Morini, partner and co-founder of SMAC Entertainment.
Schwartz-Morini spent a decade working her way up the NFL career ladder, often considered the ultimate boys club, to take on an executive role as the Director of Entertainment and Television Programming.
Making it in male dominated industries, like the NFL can be uniquely challenging for women. These industries often employ fewer women and the lack of gender diversity can make them vulnerable to gender bias. As one of the few senior women working at the NFL, Schwartz-Morini says she had to consistently demonstrate her worth.
“The majority of executives were men. This was the early 1990s, and there were very few women in the front office. But I made it a point to always be taken seriously while not losing the essence of myself,” she says.
Schwartz-Morini says the NFL gave her the skills she needed to run SMAC, the entertainment media company she now heads up with retired NFL Hall of Famer, Michael Strahan. In this interview, Schwartz-Morini shares how women can overcome the challenges of all-male environments and make it in any industry.
Michelle King: How did you first break into the NFL ?
Constance Schwartz-Morini: I was lucky to have been hired by a woman who took the time to mentor me and give me a chance to experience and learn everything I could. And because of her, I will forever mentor and pay it forward. We only worked together for three short years, but she taught me a lifetime of lessons. She gave me the room to succeed and the room to fail.
I didn’t go into it being intimidated by all the men. I didn’t let male executives or the football players have anything on me, to intimidate me per say. My first experience with this was with Lawrence Taylor, the NFL Hall of Famer. We had agreed to meet at a certain spot, and he wasn’t there and when I found him he started yelling at me saying, "Where were you?" I started yelling back at him saying, "Where was I, where were you?" He started laughing and took a step back and said, "You know what, you were right I was wrong." That just helped to give me more confidence to not be intimidated.
My advice for millennial women, that I personally follow and adhere to, is stand up for yourself (your project, your beliefs) and always trust your gut.
King: How did you ‘make it’ in a male dominated NFL?
Schwartz-Morini: It is super male dominated. Not just industry, but the company and the whole thing. There were a lot of guys that came in because they knew somebody. They would come in above you and they were given the projects that you were working on. They were kind of gifted them. So you always wanted to prove you were better than them, and that was the motivation.
I didn’t know anyone in the business. I was never gifted anything. I always felt that if you put in the work, then you will get out what you put in. That has been my whole motivation. I can win, without the Ivy League education and without coming from money. Every time I was told no, I put that in my battery pack to work harder.
King: What was one of your biggest challenges working at the NFL and breaking into the ‘boys club’?
Schwartz-Morini: It has taken some time but I have never given up. Early on I had one boss and he always tried to hold me back and a female (colleague) said to me, "If this is where your career path is, don’t let one person stand in your way." Now I look back I am almost grateful to him, he put challenges in front of me that made me work almost a 1000 times harder. I was given a chance and I was going to make the most of it. But I had to continually earn the right to be there. If my job was from 8:30 to 6:30 well I was in at 8 and I didn’t leave till 10 at night because I wanted to learn and grow.
King: What was one of your biggest lessons from working in such a male dominated industry?
Schwartz-Morini: It took me years to be true to myself. I felt that I had to dress a certain way in order to be taken seriously. Looking back, I wish that maybe I wasn’t so scared. I didn’t need to wear the baggy clothes for the first five years of my career. I always wanted to be taken seriously and not be noticed because of what I looked like or what I was wearing.
But I just wish I had more self-confidence because everyone automatically assumes if you are a female and you semi-attractive that you are the assistant or the girlfriend. Everyone goes to my male counterparts, meanwhile I am the decision maker. Now I just laugh. It will always be a struggle until you prove yourself.