Setting the Right Tone for Female Executives in Baseball

"We need to challenge and change the status quo. Such change needs to be accepted, even revered."

Boston Red Sox Senior Vice President, Major and Minor League Operations Raquel Ferreira has a light moment with Sox manager Alex Cora, right.
Boston Red Sox Senior Vice President, Major and Minor League Operations Raquel Ferreira has a light moment with Sox manager Alex Cora, right. John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Back in the 1990s, baseball fans were getting their first iconic glimpse of women playing the game in the classic film, A League of Their Own. Now, there’s an increase of females in sports executive (never mind coaching) positions, and they’re getting an assist from Tone Networks.

It can be just as hard for women to succeed as it is for a player in rookie league ball to make the majors. But a series of films is seeking to change that. However, instead of box office sensations, these videos from Tone Networks are designed to help empower women who are early on in their careers to understand what leadership behavior looks like, with coaching topics like how to step up and ask for feedback. And they’ve got a powerful partner in the lineup: the Atlanta Braves, one of the best franchises in the business.

SEE ALSO: How Artificial Intelligence Is Leaving Baseball Fans A Lot More Satisfied

The Braves are one of the first sports teams to embrace executive coaching designed to help women and undertake a special program that assists their personal growth. The Tone Networks have an online library of 1,000+ videos, which feature experts and career coaches. Now, Braves employees have full access to the necessary resources for leadership management and progress in these executive positions.

Though the project has begun with the Atlanta Braves, it’s easy to see how such a phenomenon could be a hit, not just with the Braves and baseball, but in executive positions in a variety of fields.

A Film Network of Their Own

To find out more, I interviewed women who are part of the project, including Gemma Toner, the CEO and founder of Tone Networks, about her SaaS technology learning and leadership development platform, and how it helps empower the female leaders of tomorrow.

We obviously know that promoting women in sports is good for fairness. Are there other reasons why it’s a good idea?
Gemma Toner: There is plenty written about how a diverse array of folks in business is good. There are lots of men in the industry. Female talent needs to be brought along, and there needs to be a conscious effort to work in women. At Davos this year, Goldman Sachs’ CEO said there is a greater need for diversity. It’s more than just the right thing to do; it’s good business.

Why baseball? Why the Atlanta Braves?
Toner: Baseball was the first to say yes. We found the right fit, at the right moment, with the right leadership… it was the perfect storm. We need to challenge and change the status quo. Such change needs to be accepted, even revered. Women need allies, mentors, sponsors. When developing a pipeline, women need resources and a community. Women need that initiative.

How do women face challenges in executive roles?
Toner: In a room full of men, I took a side. I was told, ‘You are being too aggressive. You are being intimidating to men in the room.’ When women are assertive, they are seen as aggressive. It’s not the same for men. It’s not that men are bad, it’s that we have some unconscious behavior and biases. We must create awareness. When the person looks different; it can lead to bias. We don’t even realize it. Take the resume bias case, for example. A man and a woman can have equal experience, but the hiring manager might pick the guy. It’s important to be aware of it, and take conscious steps to address it. It’s something to practice, a discipline as well.

I love data, like the film Moneyball. It’s about accountability, the business of results. There are a lot of unconscious biases. It’s a false dichotomy… if you like data, some think you don’t like people. Data can also reveal results that help understand people’s behavior. It’s an example of what women face every day.  

How and why do the coach videos work?
Toner: Tone Networks offer women access to coaching resources, since most don’t get an executive coach or expert until later on in their careers. We offer a way to get women resources earlier in their careers. Most women are short on time. The new trend in education is micro-learning, creating strong videos, which can be consumed any which way you can in your life, while going to a conference or course is a luxury.

You make it easy and personalized. The videos are like “Give me the 1, 2, 3.” Those on the video are recruited, extraordinary professionals, PhDs on relationships, procrastination, leadership and other topics. We also host livestream coaching sessions, providing a connection to experts. It’s a twice-a-month event with two-way conversation. Participants can type in questions and have them answered. We can create a virtual coaching session for each company, tailored specifically to the women there.

It’s about stepping into the workforce, how to interview, how you show up, how to have an executive presence, even when you aren’t an executive. What’s appropriate. We get it to women earlier in their careers. The more you know, the more you can grow.

Tone Network’s Top 10 Videos

  • Do You Have Executive Presence?
  • How to Price Yourself
  • Trust Your Instincts
  • How to Give Feedback
  • Are You Easily Distracted?
  • Hormones That Affect Your Appetite
  • Getting a Seat at the Table
  • Managing Your Money
  • Channel Your Inner Leader
  • How to Get Your Swagger On and Own the Room

What should women focus on to prepare themselves for executive roles?
GT: Get into the genre of the company or area of interest. Build a base of knowledge and networks. Develop meaningful relationships. Get noticed. When you do great work, make sure folks know it. Ask for feedback and responsibility. It’s about building allies with women and men who support them. It’s about overcoming burnout. It’s about helping women manage stress and develop peak performance.

I also interviewed DeRetta Cole Rhodes, PhD, senior vice president of human resources at the Atlanta Braves.

So how’d you get into HR?
DeRetta Cole Rhodes: I started my career in an operational management rotational program with PepsiCo on the restaurant side, specifically Taco Bell, and my last rotational assignment was a regional recruiter for a new restaurant concept called Hot ‘n Now, and the rest is history.

How did you get interested in baseball and the Atlanta Braves?
My interest in baseball goes back further than the Atlanta Braves. As a little girl, I watched baseball with my grandfather growing up. It didn’t stop there, I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and I was always around the Negro League Museum and to top it off, my sons played baseball from the ages of eight to 18 years old, so I was a baseball mom, too. I love the game, and it has been exciting to now work in the business of baseball.

How did you decide to go for the PhD?
After I received my MBA and began my career, the one thing that I realized was imperative for me to have creditability in an HR function is that I needed to be steeped in both practice and research. I decided to go back to receive my PhD for relevance in the rooms that I am in. I don’t lead with my doctorate; I have it to further inform the profession that I am in.

Are you reacting to employee feedback, or did you introduce this as a resource that maybe employees didn’t realize existed?
Rhodes: A group of leaders in the organization had asked, “What creative ways can we do development that supports all levels of the organization?” We find that we have the answer with Tone Networks.

How could having more women move into leadership roles, management, help the Atlanta Braves?
Having women move into leadership can help ALL organizations. The reality is that you come up with the best solutions when all demographics are represented. 

What do employees wish they were more prepared for?
That is a hard question because it varies from person to person. I believe as an organization that we have to find that balance to both prepare them and help them answer the question of preparedness.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia—read his full bio.

Setting the Right Tone for Female Executives in Baseball