When Callie Brownson played backyard football as a child, the only obstacles she cared about were the other kids trying to keep the ball out of the end zone. Now, as a full-time college football coach, the systemic challenges facing women in a male-dominated sport are all too real.
“When you’re young and you’re a kid and you’re passionate about something, you don’t see those obstacles,” she said. “I didn’t realize that I was the only girl playing in the Turkey Bowl in the neighborhood.
“Those things just don’t really resonate with you until, all of a sudden, society and the dialogue that goes on kind of takes over.”
Callie shared her experiences at Amway World Headquarters recently for an #InspiredCoaching panel discussion called “Tackling Grass Ceilings: Play to Slay.” This was the second Grass Ceilings event, made possible by the Amway Coaches’ Poll.
The discussion was moderated by Emmy-nominated sports broadcaster Tracy Wolfson, lead reporter for the NFL and NCAA Men’s Basketball coverage on CBS. USA Today sports columnist Nancy Armour and Amway Independent Business Owner Laura Taylor joined Callie on the panel.
The three women described finding a source of passion – applicable to business as well as sports – that helped them transcend barriers in male-dominated fields. For Callie, it was the joy of the game itself.
“I knew that if I wanted to make a career out of this, if I wanted to even fight for the existence of women who play, that it was going to be a fight in a male-dominated field,” she said. “But this is my dream, this is my goal. And whatever adversity that’s already going to be built in there … to me, it was always worth it.”
Callie’s love of the game has taken her far: She built a career as a player on the D.C. Divas™ in the Women’s Football Alliance from 2010 to 2017, and now, as the offensive quality control coach at Dartmouth College, she is the first known full-time female coach in NCAA Division I football.
That willingness to pursue a dream was shared by all the panelists. Laura credited her mother with instilling a “kind of naïve optimism,” encouraging her to reach for the stars in every endeavor.
“I was eventually exposed to entrepreneurism and to business ownership and that resonated with me,” Laura said. “Never did it cross my mind like, ‘this is a male-dominated field,’” she said. Instead, she remembered her mother’s words, “Whatever lights that fire within you, go for that and do it to the best of your ability.”
Nancy said she considers herself fortunate because, when she started her reporting career with The Associated Press, her boss was a woman with decades of experience in the role.
“So, the idea of a woman being a sportswriter was not something I questioned, because the person running our entire department of the world’s largest news gathering organization was a woman,” Nancy said. “I didn’t realize how fortunate I was, really, until I left the AP and had discussions with other women about some of the challenges that they had.”
Having the example of working for a female editor was empowering, she said.
“They often say that you can’t be something until you see something,” Nancy said. “And in my case, that was very, very true. … I never second-guessed myself.”
The panelists fielded questions, including one who asked what advice they would have for the younger generation looking to become leaders.
“I think my biggest bit of advice would be to kind of mute out those voices of negativity and care less what people think,” Laura said. “I think a lot of times, if we trace back our insecurities, or our fears, or our lack of doing something, it’s often because we have a fear of what others will think.”
You can read more blogs about #InspiredCoaching at AmwayConnections.com featuring participants from last year’s Grass Ceilings event as well as successful college football coaches and Amway Independent Business Owners.