Moving Beyond Intention: Increasing Employee Engagement/Retention by Creating More Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Work Environments in the Sports Industry

By Carmen Carson posted 03-24-2021 11:49 AM


After collecting data and insights from dozens of executive leaders of major league sports teams and their affiliates throughout the US, the AchieveNEXT team released its 2021 DEI Sports Industry Outlook Report, which highlighted key challenges and opportunities around employee experiences and DE&I in sports enterprises with a focus on the non-player workforce. While it was apparent that many sports organizations have iterated their intention of creating inclusive and equitable workplaces that support diversity of their staff, further research and discussions have demonstrated that there is often a disconnect between the intention and action of organizations as a whole.

Following the release of the report, AchieveNEXT hosted a webinar designed to engage with these sports industry executives and stakeholders for a deeper dive into these findings with Dr. Deretta Rhodes (EVP/CPCO, Atlanta Braves), Dr. Shelton Goode (CEO, Icarus Consulting), Robyn Pollack, Esq. (DE&I Executive Managing Director, AchieveNEXT®), and Tom Stewart (CKO, AchieveNEXT®).  

With over 40 attendees representing major and minor league sports organizations, the discussions, polls, and questions during the webinar demonstrated a need for further conversations and support for these organizations as they navigate the process of increasing employee engagement and retention by creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environments. 

During the webinar, Dr. Rhodes invited the organizational representatives to reflect and rate (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being clear and direct intentions) their organization’s DEI efforts in terms of intentions. The majority of participants rated their organizations as having a rating of 4 or 5, demonstrating strong intention in their DEI efforts.

However, when participants were asked to rate (same scale) their organization’s DEI efforts in terms of actions and results, the majority rated their organizations significantly lower on the scale. This feedback directly correlated with the finds of the DEI Sports Industry Report, demonstrating that there is often a dissonance between organizations’ intention regarding DEI efforts and organizations’ actions/results with their DEI efforts. 

As the thought leaders weighed in, highlighting their own experiences in helping organizations go from intention to strategic action, Robyn Pollack pointed out that while “many companies are more intentional about creating a structure and framework to take them from intention to action, we often find that enterprises are unsure of where to start.” She recommends that such enterprises take a three part approach in creating cultures of inclusivity:

Assessment: Gathering data through focus groups, assessments, feedback from peer advisors, and seeking to put data behind the employee experience is. Using this data to determine benchmarks and KPIs.

Strategy: Where is your biggest pain? What will create the greatest win/impact? It’s important to remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint.

Implementing improved and best practices in workforce engagement is vital for success. Talent acquisition, talent development, leadership development and strategic planning all play into the process of creating cultures of inclusivity. Enterprises must determine where they are in terms of the maturity cycle and then take strategic action from there. 

Both Dr. Goode and Tom Stewart pointed out that assessing employee experience correctly is key. Managers are critical and need ongoing skills training as it relates to facilitating the employee experience. They recommended that organizational leaders consider:

  • How can you support your line manager in talent pooling and in the recruiting process to apply the DEI lens there? 
  • How can you also develop and ensure that you are using the DEI lens in performance coaching of your day to day management and all. 
  • Consider some of the best practices happening in corporate American and see if you are doing those things. For example, oftentimes in corporate America we find that some companies that want to be more inclusive have an intentional effort to identify individuals of color and move them up in promotions. They intend to create succession plans and pathways for their diverse employees. However, in many situations that’s where the process ends. Many of those companies still end up hiring from outside the organization to fill those managerial positions as they failed to actually create clear internal pathways of career growth for their employees. Again, this points to a significant gap between intention and results because many organizations are struggling to utilize their own data for the implementation of processes that ensure career pathways and opportunities for all employees.
  • Think about the managers/supervisors and determine what he/she/they need so that they can move beyond intentions into facilitating actions and results in this area. 

Key takeaways in regards to Employee Engagement in relation to the sports industry:  

  • The higher your employee engagement, the more likely your employees are to be retained. 
  • Employee engagement must focus investment in the employees - How is a team or league demonstrating that investment in employees? 
  • When you really talk to employees or teams, they are looking for support, to feel that they are valued, and that everyone is given access and opportunities. 
  • People want the development in career pathing, engagement opportunities, etc. 
  • Often, employees absolutely love the sport and the teams that they are working with and want to see that they are also being invested in by their organization. 

In summary, talent acquisition must shift and look different than it did before 2020. It’s imperative to identify how your organization can shift your practices to become more inclusive, strategic, and intention oriented with accountability for action. Organizations must be willing to think outside the box, consistently utilize data, and implement data driven tools to keep up with the shifts that are happening globally and to attract the best in the talent force. All decisions and strategies must be addressed with data and research. 

AchieveNEXT realizes that embracing opportunities for innovation and change is key. In its ongoing work with sports industry organizations, AchieveNEXT takes a proven and systematic approach to guide organizations in their DEI and employee engagement efforts. This approach includes assessment, adoption of strategies and process, and proven action tailored to each organization. 

To access the report and to view the webinar replay, CLICK HERE.

If you are interested in joining these ongoing conversations around DEI in the Sports Industry and working with the team of leaders and consultants at AchieveNEXT, please reach out to me, Carmen Carson, and the AchieveNEXT team at