Up Close with Anita DeFrantz: Pursuing Inclusion

By WISE National

"I would call myself a servant-leader, meaning that I would not ask someone else to do anything I wouldn't do." - Anita DeFrantz

2019 WISE Women of Distinction honoree Anita DeFrantz is a vocal advocate for equal rights of women in sport and the inclusion of all people in athletic endeavors. Here, the Olympic bronze medalist in rowing and International Olympic Committee vice president talks about women in the Olympic movement, social injustice, and how the legal decision to uphold a boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow affected his career path.

What career goal are you currently working on?

I have two goals: The first is to finish the work of women's equality in sport, focusing now on the leadership levels. Opportunities to compete in the Olympic Games will be close to 50-50 male-female by 2020 or 2024. Now we need coaches, administrators and leaders. The second is to end slavery. It's the 21st century and yet more than 40 million people are enslaved today around the world.

Describe a moment in your career that you would say was pivotal to your professional journey.

In 1980, I stood up against [the USOC as a plaintiff in the case against its decision to boycott the Moscow Olympic Games]. I was so disappointed by the legal judgement that it steered me away from a career in law. I didn't know what I was going to do until 1981, when I was approached by Peter Uberroth to join the 1984 Olympic organizing committee and move to Los Angeles.

Thinking back over your career, how has your leadership and management style evolved?

Now I would call myself a servant-leader, meaning that I would not ask someone else to do anything I wouldn't do.

Where do you draw inspiration from to keep your ideas and contributions fresh and relevant?

Unfortunately, I see the world is not as perfect as it should be. I keep in mind the words of this country's founders, to be in pursuit of a more perfect union. I'm inspired by watching girls and boys playing. And, I'm inspired by our country's athletes training for the Olympic Games. 

What advice would you give women who are looking to succeed in the business of sports?

Don't second-guess yourself. Don't believe in so-called meritocracy. It does not exist. In the world of business, don't ever think that by just doing good, you will receive good. And, please don't forget to ask two key questions: why and why not?

Fill in the blank …

  • I wish I had known … there's so much! How important speaking more than one language is. And, arriving at law school thinking I was going to learn about truth, justice and the American way, and instead finding that much of law isn't so altruistic. 
  • Growing up, I wanted to be … a judge, a member of the "Supremes" (the Supreme Court). And I wanted to have the opportunity to take part in sport. 
  • I can't live without me … family and friends.
  • On the weekend, you can find me … if I'm not traveling, enjoying living in Santa Monica — walking on the beach, a bike ride, or playing beach volleyball — or enjoying a quiet moment reading and learning more life lessons.
  • My biggest pet peeve is … the unfairness of the world. The Golden Rule is very simple and very inclusive. If everyone acted this way, the world would be a better place.

DeFrantz received her WISE Women of Distinction Award at the 25th Annual WISE Women of the Year Awards Luncheon on June 19, 2019 in New York City.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.