Photo credit: Brooke Alexander and Jennifer Pottheiser
On June 19, WISE celebrated its 25th Annual Women of the Year Awards Luncheon — a quarter century of celebrating female trailblazers in the industry — by recognizing its newest class of honorees: WISE Women of Distinction Anita DeFrantz, Janet Fletcher, Lisa Murray, Michele A. Roberts and Suzanne Smith.
In attendance to help welcome these women to the club were 21 previous WISE Women of the Year honorees, including the very first, Sara Levinson. Luncheon emcee and CBS Sports lead reporter Tracy Wolfson introduced the group and welcomed them to the stage, capping off the procession by acknowledging WISE founder Sue Rodin.
“They would not be here without you today, so thank you, Sue,” Wolfson said.
WISE national board chair and president Kathleen Francis followed, speaking of how WISE originated from the need for a network of women other women could call upon and marveling at the growth the organization has experienced since it first presented the award in 1995. “Don’t ever let anybody tell you that women don’t help women,” she said.
Before concluding, Francis paid tribute to WISE board member and WISE Atlanta president Kristi Atkins, who lost her battle with cancer on June 14. Atkins was often the first to step up to the plate — her catchphrase was “I’ll do it!” — and her impact on the organization and all those around her is indelible, said Francis.
“We don’t want to pause for a moment of silence; we want to applaud what Kristi has done for us,” she said.
Working Together Toward Equality
International Olympic Committee vice president Anita DeFrantz had been called to Switzerland for a mandatory IOC meeting and was unable to attend the luncheon. She sent a video message in which she stressed how women working together makes all women stronger and praised WISE for its role in that.
“The WISE organization is the tip of the spear, making certain that we are at the table,” she said. “Look around the room and feel the power there. They are the leaders who will make sure we get to the right place where we have full equality.”
Her Lucky Break
In accepting her award, Janet Fletcher, director of Olympics and sports marketing for The Procter & Gamble Company, shared her gratitude and honor for being a female in a male-dominated industry, talking about her “lucky break in sports” coming in 2009, when P&G signed with the Olympic Games. She was hooked after that.
“The relationships and connections in this industry have brought joy and purpose in my work,” she said. “I am so proud to be a part of this team. What a blessing to do work that you love and make an impact.”
Just arriving in from the Women’s World Cup, Lisa Murray, Octagon Worldwide executive vice president and global chief marketing officer, used the WISE acronym — and came prepared with visuals, as well, placards with each letter — to share with the audience important lessons she’s learned along her professional journey.
“Take a risk — the safe path is not necessarily the right path,” she said.
The First, But Not the Last
Michele A. Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association and the first woman to head a major professional sports union in North America, expressed pride in being a woman in sports business, spoke of progress still to be made and reaffirmed her commitment to supporting other women.
“I’m humbled by this award and will promise you this, that I will make sure that I’m not the last woman that is the director of a sport’s union,” she said.
Suzanne Smith, director and producer at CBS Sports, recalled how surprised she was when growing up that the boys didn’t want her on their whiffle ball team. When she finally got a chance, she hit the ball over their heads for a home run.
“I didn’t let that stop me then and not for my career,” she said, adding, “The challenges you face are not nearly as important as how you respond and conquer them.”