How Michele Roberts broke a glass ceiling without even trying

by Grace Pointner

America is a nation divided into groups. These groups are defined by gender, race, ethnicity, economics, religion, politics etc. We constantly debate, protest and fight over these groups, incessantly pushing for equality between them and wondering why discrimination still exists in our “free country”.

Men and women have tried to make a difference by changing their appearance, stepping into uncomfortable positions or stubbornly “standing up” for what they believe to be right. But few have mastered the art of simply working hard and being influential without the intention of standing out.

It seems like any effort to make a change in our divided country leads to more violence and debate, not peaceful negotiations. Just recently, however, a woman has stood out and, in a world dominated by men, broken a glass ceiling without even trying to.

 

Michele Roberts and her rise to influence

Without the platform of feminism beneath her, Michele Roberts is making a difference for women of color in the world of sports-business. She has patiently been climbing the political ladder with determination, honesty and passion and recently her efforts have paid off.

Roberts first made history when she became the first woman elected to the position of Executive Director of the NBPA back in July of 2014. Following former director Billy Hunter’s scandal, Roberts became the only female director of a male sports team. She was only 4 votes shy of a unanimous election.

This election was shocking to the public. Not only was Roberts a black woman, but she was a black woman working in a world typically controlled by men. She was paving a way for future women without an outspoken feminist agenda; she was simply doing her job and following her passion. Roberts proved that having an irresistible resume and powerful, confident personality speaks louder than proving her worth through her “image” aka. her gender and color.

But that said, she isn’t silent about her gender or the seeming “hindrance” that is to her career. In the months leading up to her election, she told the players, “I bet you can tell I’m a woman… [but] my past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.”

“I bet you can tell I’m a woman… [but] my past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.”

And her words are not false. Only a year after her election did she begin to change the demographics of NBA economics. She raised awareness to unfair payment policies by recruiting star players, like LeBron James, to be on her side and back up her ideas.

She uses her past successes as her platform and doesn’t conform to the cultural trend of creating a professional image based off of one’s membership to a minority. Roberts herself said, “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about breaking a glass ceiling.” Rather, she works on relating with players, working hard and keeping in touch with her South Bronx roots.

“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about breaking a glass ceiling.”

Her rise to this position took work and dedication. Raised by a single mother, Roberts paved her own way through law school and then a successful career in the court system before landing her job with the NBPA. Both in sports and in politics, she focuses on her work—protecting players or accused criminals rights—not creating a feminist or colored agenda.

She models an honest work ethic that gets the job done and proves that women should be considered equally in the business world, both in pay and status. Her influence becomes even greater when one considers how many influential male athletes rely on her wisdom and protection. They trust her because she is driven and undistracted by her position as a minority and because she knows her Basketball fast facts.

How will Robert’s help women’s rights?

Just as Robert’s has changed the world of NBA players, so could she influence women’s rights if her viewpoint were more commonly adopted. She doesn’t force her feminism in the faces of her co-workers or competitors, rather, she shows them her work. In an interview with the New York Times Roberts stated, “I don’t live my life saying, ‘What ceiling am I going to crack tomorrow?… What I have done, and what I tell my nieces to do, is not to worry about whether you’re the only one, but worry about whether you’re the best one.”

“I don’t live my life saying, ‘What ceiling am I going to crack tomorrow?’”

In a world where men and women are striving to be equal, people like Roberts are vital. She demonstrates what the future can look like: men trusting women, and thus, women trusting men with business, personal and economic needs.

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