The NFL has long been a male-dominated industry, from the playing field to the coaching staffs to football operations.
But it’s no longer exclusively men with the high-profile jobs, and as the years go on, there is hope that more women break through the barrier and assume key positions.
That type of progress should be aided by the Women’s Career Development Symposium, a two-day event which began on Friday in Phoenix for more than 40 women working across the NFL. There were multiple presentations and panel discussions at the Arizona Biltmore, and the group will travel to the Cardinals facility on Saturday for a player evaluation tutorial during the Pro Player Combine.
Debbie Pollom works as the Cardinals’ college scouting coordinator, planning the logistics for countless endeavors year-round. She attended the sessions on Friday and is glad to see the emphasis placed on improving gender equality.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Pollom said. “This is my 34th year in the business, and it’s nice to see that there are some new roles that are growing for women.”
Cardinals team president Michael Bidwill was a panelist during the “Football Operations: Culture and Expectations” discussion on Friday afternoon, alongside Chargers president of football operations John Spanos and moderator Mori Taheripour.
During one segment Bidwill spoke of Adele Harris, who the team hired in 1978 as the first African American executive in the NFL. Bidwill said Harris had a unique relationship with the players.
“Players gravitated to her, as an African American woman and a mom,” Bidwill said. “She spoke to players like a mom would, in both a way that was nurturing but also a way that was demanding. She knew they could play better in certain instances, knew they could be better men in certain instances, but also when they needed to lean on her and needed that softer side. I saw that when I was a teenager, and
That experience helped shape his hiring philosophy. Whether it’s a man or woman, Bidwill wants to find the best person for the job. The Cardinals were the first team in the NFL to hire a female coach when Jen Welter interned during training camp in 2015.
“Many roles on the football side of the organization have traditionally been held by men, but they really don’t need to be,” Bidwill said. “And so, we’ve done a lot of examining as a league and as an organization. What are some of these roles where we can incorporate women in and see those benefits? We’ve always thought a more diverse race background as an organization was great, and we’re focused on gender as well now.”
Pollom works under General Manager Steve Keim and appreciates that she is treated like everyone else.
“I’m fortunate that I work for Steve Keim, because he allows me to do my job,” Pollom said. “Often we don’t even speak day-to-day. He just knows the Senior Bowl will be taken care of, the combine will be taken care of, the draft will be taken care of. He expects me to do my job, and he allows me to do it.”
There is still work to be done in finding more prominent roles for women in the NFL, but the symposium was a step in the right direction. Bidwill believes the knowledge and networking opportunities gained by those in attendance will help them when opportunities arise.
“They’ve got a great advantage,” Bidwill said. “There were about 40 or 50 women in there that have a head start and are going to be a part of the cutting edge of some of the changes coming down the road.”