WISE Up: On the value of diversity, storytelling and creativity

FEBRUARY 20, 2024

Below: Advice on career pivots and tapping into your creativity.

WISE/R Together

Powerful relationships were forged at WISE/R 2023. Join us for WISE/R 2024 on March 18!

Dear WISE community,


February has been celebrated as Black History Month since 1976. Its purpose is to focus attention on the contributions, cultural heritage and adversities particular to African Americans as they helped shape this nation. In fact, every month that honors the achievements of a particular group of people – Women's History Month is just weeks away — intends to do the same. But if you don't believe in or appreciate the value of diversity, no amount of celebrating is likely to change that.


Every February, I reaffirm my fervent belief in the value of diversity for ourselves as individuals and as organizations. I am who I am because I grew up in a culturally rich Louisiana community where I was exposed to people from different walks of life from a very young age. I was raised on the campus of Xavier University, a historically Black college, in the midst of the civil rights movement. My father was Xavier's president, my mom was its first lady, and they believed that diversity was a powerful force for good — not unlike a good gumbo that blends different ingredients and flavors into deliciousness. Our very modest home, next door to the maintenance department, hosted a revolving door of guests — from extended family, friends, students, faculty and campus workers to mayors, senators, religious leaders and entertainers. They all came for my mother's gumbo, but they left enriched by unexpected introductions and exchanges that were sometimes life-changing.


When people learn of my upbringing, they often presume it was financially privileged. It was definitely privileged, but for quite a different reason. The greatest gift my parents offered my five siblings and me was the privilege of exposure. That exposure — to people from different races, religious backgrounds and world views — taught me, early on, to recognize the value in each person. I was taught to SEE people and celebrate the role that each can play in the making of a great gumbo (a.k.a. team or organization).


So, as we celebrate this year's Black History Month, and so many others, let's do more than acknowledge the contributions and challenges of the past. Let's assess and acknowledge the true value of diversity to our organizations today, as well as the difficulties we face and possible solutions. That's what we aim to do at WISE. Although we are in large part a leadership development organization, we understand that we can only grow into the best versions of ourselves – as leaders, colleagues and citizens – if we are exposed to the broadest range of human experience.


On that note, I hope to see you at the in NYC on March 18 for a phenomenal day of learning and networking that truly can change your life. I'm also excited for you to read what ESPN Films' Marsha Cooke has to say about the value of diversity in storytelling and so much more in our WISE interview below.



Kathleen Francis
Chair and President


P.S. We accidentally misidentified Carrie Potter's chapter affiliation in our last newsletter, and I wanted to make sure she is properly credited. She is the former chapter president of WISE Houston (not Dallas Fort Worth) and president of Potter Advisors. The current chapter president of WISE DFW is Natalie Jenkins. Our sincere apologies!

One-Question Quiz: Black History Edition

In 2005, BET co-founder Sheila Johnson became the first Black woman to own a stake of not one but three major American professional sports teams, all located in the same city. What are they?

The WISE Interview: Marsha Cooke, VP, EP of ESPN Films and 30 for 30

Marsha Cooke

Photo: Marsha Cooke

built an impressive résumé in news, serving as senior vice president of global news and special projects at VICE after spending 24 years at CBS, where she was the first Black Asia bureau chief. But to find her dream job, she had to follow her heart — to ESPN. Two years into her latest role, it's clear she made the right move. One of the films she helped shepherd, Black Girls Play, was recently shortlisted for an Oscar, and WNBA legend Brittney Griner just announced that she'll partner with ESPN Films on a biodoc. We asked Cooke to share some stories, advice and opinions with the WISE community.


On forging a new path:

"I had a fabulous career in news; I got to travel the world and work at the network level. But, eventually, I had Peggy Lee singing in my head, 'Is that all there is?' So when a headhunter asked if I had a dream job, I went for it. Having always been a sports fan, I told him I would love to work in sports. He soon called me with an opportunity at the NFL. A friend connected me with Brian Lockhart, who was at ESPN but had worked at the NFL, and he became my rabbi. The job didn't pan out, but I continued conversations with Brian and others at ESPN over a period of several months … and the right opportunity happened at the right time."


On how others can forge a new path, too:

"Sit down, bucket your strengths, then find a job description for your ideal next move — don't worry about titles! — and see how you match up. I realized that the curiosity I had as a journalist would translate to documentaries, and I knew that I could be a storyteller in sports. One other thing: Don't be afraid or embarrassed to tell people exactly what it is you want."


On telling the stories you want to tell:

"Politics, gender pay gaps, equity, social psychology, mental health — you can cover any topic through sports. Viewers may be drawn to our films because they like a team or an athlete, but we can serve them a broader story. So someone who watches The Minister of Defense, a film about NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White, may be surprised to find themselves immersed in a story about a man who said some controversial things, yet is a man of faith. Or there's "Pink Card," a 30 for 30 podcast about women fighting for the right to enter a soccer stadium in Iran. It's about politics and equality, but maybe the listener came for soccer."


On balancing the focus:

"Representation matters, so we are working to get more female-centered stories and more stories told through a female lens into ESPN's library. Some recent examples include Black Girls Play, a history of creativity, particularly Black creativity; Dream On, about the 1996 US women's Olympic basketball team; and Jeanette Lee Vs., about the groundbreaking Asian American billiards star. But it's also important to look at how they are performing. Our films are well received, but I want us to do a better job at getting the word out about all we have in our library."


On nurturing talent:

"I ask everyone on my team about their goals. I want them to tell me what they want out of their current job and what their ideal next job would be, so I can help grow their career. Then I think about how each new project can get them closer to where they want to be. Such attention increases retention, but I also know that you are not going to give your best if you think you've hit your ceiling. And if someone does leave, I want my name out there as someone who incubates talent so we can attract the next generation of great people."


On some favorite films and books:

Past Lives: "Beautiful movie, bittersweet, poignant and sometimes a little funny. The opening device is genius."

American Fiction: "A political film for right now, but also a personal film about a dysfunctional family."

Winnie the Pooh: "These books are about friendship, love, and, yes, honey. I often put a quote from Pooh or Piglet in notecards I send to people."

Personal History: "Katherine Graham's memoir. We come from such different places, but her smarts, vivaciousness, fearlessness and willingness to make change have always been an inspiration."

Life in Five Senses: "When the author, Gretchen Rubin, thinks she's losing her eyesight, it forces her to think about how she underappreciated all her senses."

The Fire Next Time: "But really anything by James Baldwin."

Let's Go! Women on the Move

Jenny Cavnar now: ; formerly: backup play-by-play announcer, pregame and postgame host and reporter for regional TV coverage of the Colorado Rockies.


Laura Flynn now: ; formerly: interim VP, Commercial Partnerships at the organization.


Jamie Maddocks now: ; formerly: Human Resource Manager at KAEKO, Inc.


Caitlin Sargent now: ; formerly: VP/Men's Brand Marketing at the company.


JoAn Scott now: ; formerly: managing director of men's basketball championships for the organization.


Kari Seitz now: ; formerly: FIFA Head of Women's Refereeing.


Hope Sharett now: ; formerly: ASU Enterprise Partners General Counsel & Corporate Secretary.


Cheryl Wong now: ; formerly: Associate Commissioner, Sport Management and Championships at the Pac-12 Conference.


Send us your exciting job news: newsletter@wiseworks.org

Worth the Click

How to change a civic image: (CBS News)


How to change a franchise image: (The Athletic, paywall)


How to build up an audience: . (SportsPro)


How to build up your streaming business: (WSJ Gift Link)


How to motivate a crowd: (New York Magazine)


How to motivate yourself to do professional development: (WSJ Gift Link)

Trend Tracking: Executive Creativity

According to research, leaders of high-growth companies are prioritizing creativity. Which makes sense, given that individual imagination is a driver of organizational innovation. But with time constraints a perennial concern, especially given the , how can busy professionals like you access their inner creativity?


Some obvious answers are obvious for a reason: Making time for a hobby or the arts will often produce sparks in other areas of your life, including work. So by all means sign up for that pottery class or museum membership you've been thinking about! But here's another idea, especially for the schedule-challenged (and who isn't?): Put some time in your workday calendar to ... do nothing. As notes:


"Most teams are effectively playing what we call 'schedule Tetris,' cramming every possible incoming meeting invite into every single opening, as if finding space for every meeting were the point of the game. And yet, when pushed to innovate, one of the most oft-repeated complaints is, 'I don't have any time.' The most visionary leaders block time for unscheduled time."


The emphasis is ours, because we know how hard it is for busy people to not be busy. But try. It will definitely feed your soul, and may fire up your imagination.


From the

Looking to inspire and connect people through the power of sport? Consider working for a league. There's a variety of opportunities, whether you have experience in ticketing, are passionate about operational excellence, have strong relationships in the hotel industry, want to be part of a marketing team, know social media, are great at business development... See more openings .

Mark Your Calendar: Professional Development

WISE Emerging Leaders Certificate Program

Photo: WISE Emerging Leaders Certificate Program

: April 24-May 29


Registration is open for this interactive virtual program specifically designed to expand the leadership capabilities of female professionals in middle management. Hone your understanding and application of business, strategic and financial acumen and learn methods for improving communication proficiency. Classes meet weekly on Wednesdays for six consecutive weeks. .

: March 18

Join fellow WISE members in NYC in sessions focused on personal and professional development, from the latest in communication tools to the best use of analytics to the rising power of women's sports. See the lineup of speakers .

: March 19

Game Recognizes Game at our annual luncheon in NYC. Registration closes March 5 at 7 p.m. ET for this celebration of the exceptional achievements of our WISE Women of the Year honorees. , before it sells out.


One-Question Quiz Answer


Washington Wizards (NBA), Capitals (NHL) and Mystics (WNBA). Johnson is also credited with being the first female African American billionaire.

We'd Love to Hear From You! Ideas for WISE Up? New job? Just want to say hello? Email us.