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Senior woman administrators share expertise to help others maximize the role at their schools and conferences

Suzette McQueen, Amy Williams, Carrie Michaels and Renae Myles

In 2017, the NCAA published a report that revealed a membership-wide need for greater clarity around the senior woman administrator designation. What sorts of responsibilities should be associated with this designation? Who should serve in this role? And does that person work only with women’s sports? (The answer to that last question, of course, is no.)

To answer these and other questions, the NCAA office of inclusion has worked to provide a variety of resources for athletics administrators to use on their campuses. Most recently, the office released a series of videos featuring senior woman administrators sharing actionable advice for their peers. Champion caught up with a few of these women to learn even more about how they approach their jobs.

CHAMPION MAGAZINE: What does the senior woman administrator designation look like at your institution?

Suzette McQueen: As the SWA for the conference, I’m the liaison between the office and our member institutions’ SWAs. With support from the SWA Committee, we hold monthly conference calls, along with two in-person meetings. I provide conference assistance to help achieve the goals and programming for the year. Many of our SWAs juggle multiple roles, which can be common on many campuses, so however I can assist as a resource is what I try to do.

Carrie Michaels: The designation is really valued on my campus. I think it comes with senior-level leadership expectations. I’m a part of our senior management team and fully entrenched in all of our critical issues facing the athletic department. With regard to responsibilities, I have supervision of men’s and women’s sports. I also supervise other areas within our department, including our sports medicine division and our equipment managers. I oversee all of our budgets. I facilitate all of the search processes for head coaches and other key vacancies. I’m in charge of specific fundraising initiatives. I work with licensing and branding, and I negotiate our sports apparel contracts. I oversee game management, and I oversee all our gender equity.

Renae Myles: This is my third time being designated SWA at an institution. It’s been different at each one, but I would say the foundation of how I operate in that designation is being an advocate for all things in the athletic department in terms of equity and diversity and fairness across the board, with all teams, males and females.

Amy Williams: When I first assumed the role of the SWA a few years ago, I did so with an extensive background in compliance, budgeting, internal relations and operations. Since then and under new leadership in the department, my responsibilities have moved into sport oversight, Title IX and alumni relations and development work. As a senior administrator, I work closely with the athletic director regarding all aspects of athletics operations, as well as nurturing and advising other key partners on campus. I have oversight of field hockey, men’s basketball, baseball, women’s lacrosse, golf and also our athletic communications office.

CM: What is the biggest misperception about your role as the SWA?

McQueen: Well, first, people don’t even know what the name stands for. They’ll say senior women administrator. They think you are the administrator for women. Also, it is not an actual job title; it’s a designation. I think that’s confusing for people. You could do so many different things and be the SWA.

Michaels: That I work only with women’s sports and that I’m only concerned about women’s sports. I have to constantly reiterate that my concerns are for men and women equally.

Williams: One of the biggest misperceptions is that the SWA handles issues relevant only to women’s sports or women’s coaches. I think another one that is common is that the SWA is responsible for all gender equity issues in athletics.

CM: How have you leveraged the SWA designation to enhance your impact?

Michaels: When I wanted specific opportunities, I would offer that, as the SWA, I should probably be involved with a particular meeting or conference or professional development opportunity. I think with this designation I’ve gained more access to committee and group work on varied levels. I think I’ve also gained much more access to senior leadership.

Myles: I’ve leveraged it in ways to make certain that a different perspective is heard. In a male-dominated profession such as athletics, the perspective of a female would be lost if we weren’t at the table.

Williams: The two resource documents that the NCAA published from the SWA study have been really good education for our campus. I posted them on the bulletin board outside my office so that anyone who walks by can see and read them. This is a really simple thing, but I’ve gotten really good payoff from it.

CM: How has the SWA designation enabled you to grow professionally?

McQueen: For me, it has been very valuable to have a seat at the table. It guarantees us that. What we do with it once we get there is up to us, but at least it gives us the opportunity.

Michaels: I’ve used my SWA designation to specifically request additional duties. That’s how I got sport supervision.

Myles: It has allowed me to serve on committees that I probably would not have had the opportunity to serve on in the NCAA. The Committee on Academics, I served on that for several years. And by being part of the conference governance structure, now you’re impacting how 10 or 11 schools in your conference operate. If I did not have the SWA designation, I would not be afforded the opportunity to go to those conference meetings.

Williams: Under the guidance of a new athletic director, I’ve been challenged to take on some new responsibilities, most specifically with alumni relations and development. Senior leadership at Kenyon has encouraged my growth to become a smarter, stronger, more effective leader by challenging my assumptions, learning how to have difficult conversations and working together as one team toward a common mission. I’m able to carry that kind of experience into roles on various committees.

CM: What advice would you give a new SWA on how to make the most of the designation?

McQueen: I know a lot of folks are overwhelmed with work, but you have to put yourself out there. Just having the designation doesn’t automatically mean that your AD will remember to include you, if that’s not what they’ve done in the past. You might have to ask to go to a cabinet meeting, or ask to sit in when the coaches meet, if that’s not something you normally do. I think you have to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and be visible. If the athletics director doesn’t seem to know how to utilize your role, you may need to educate them more. You might have to do some work to circumvent if you’re not feeling like you’re getting the visibility and responsibility that should come with the role.

Michaels: Understand the role of the SWA so you can articulate it to others. And know that you’re representing both men’s and women’s sports and issues. Understand that you provide a unique perspective as a woman, and as the SWA, you should be a member of the senior leadership team. Use the designation to your advantage to pursue opportunities.

Myles: If they don’t have the skill of anticipation, learn it, get it, figure it out. Watch your athletic director, and make sure you’re in tune with what he or she is wanting for the culture of the department. To me, you’re a second set of eyes for the athletics director.

Williams: Take advantage of every opportunity. But do so with deliberate intent and staying true to your personal and your institutional mission. It’s really important to be present, to be visible and to be reliable. And I would say to ask questions, to get involved, to get to know your students and your colleagues.

Who Gave Advice

These women were included in a series of videos recently released by the NCAA office of inclusion about the role of senior woman administrators. They share advice here and in the videos, available with other resources for senior woman administrators at ncaa.org/swa:

  • Suzette McQueen: Senior associate commissioner for external relations and strategic marketing, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
  • Carrie Michaels: Senior associate director of athletics, Shippensburg.
  • Renae Myles: Senior associate athletics director for internal operations, Winthrop.
  • Amy Williams: Associate director of athletics, fitness and recreation, Kenyon.
About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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