You think of sports fans and the image of frat boys, drinking beer, pounding fists and painting their faces in team colors is likely what's popped into your head in the past. But now, the rise of the female sports fan is fierce and just getting stronger.
A major force is Tracy Sandler, founder and CEO of Fangirl Sports Network, a site bringing together women who share their knowledge and passion for all things sports. Tracy explains how she made a thriving business out of her passion and why it's so important that women aren't intimidated of breaking into fields that have traditionally been male dominated!
Where did your love of sports begin?
I grew up with two brothers and a father who loved sports, so I've been watching and enjoying sports since I was a little girl. My first big memory was being at the opening 1988 World Series game when Kirk Gibson came up to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning and pinch-hit a game-winning home run. He had been injured and I don't think anyone even expected him to get on base.
"It was truly one of the most amazing sports moments I have ever experienced. I get chills just thinking about it!"
What were you doing prior to founding Fangirl Sports Network?
Before launching Fangirl Sports Network, I worked at a political and philanthropic donor-advising firm. I have a background in politics as well, having been a Cabinet member in the Adrian Fenty administration when he was the Mayor of Washington, DC.
How did the idea for Fangirl Sports Network come about?
Well, I wrote for the sports section of The Michigan Daily while in college and worked at FOX Sports during and after my college years. After that, I started a blog for fun called The Trials and Tribulations of My Love/Hate Relationship with the San Francisco 49ers. I was writing about the team regularly and discovered how much I loved getting back into my sports roots. From Trials and Tribulations, I rebranded as “49ers Fangirl" and started creating weekly videos and a podcast, in addition to blog posts covering games and in-depth features on the players.
When did Fangirl Sports Network really start to become a reality?
During the 2015 NFL season, which was the first for “49ers Fangirl," I thought it would be awesome if there was a Fangirl for every team in every professional sport. This would be a woman who was not only knowledgeable, passionate, and funny, but also someone who loved the more “girly" side of sports – recipes, looking and feeling good at the game, workouts that could be done during halftime, etc. And from there, Fangirl Sports Network was born.
I decided to expand with an additional NFL team during the 2016 season, and brought on the “Rams Fangirl" to cover the Los Angeles Rams. Last month we expanded into the NBA with the launched of the “Los Angeles Clippers Fangirl" and “Golden State Warriors Fangirl."
Talk about starting a business for females in a male dominated industry—what has your experience been like?
The thing about being a woman in this industry is that you can't make mistakes when it comes to your knowledge. It's absolutely crucial for me to be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible for every video, podcast, blog post, television appearance, etc. When it comes to any disrespectful comments from men in person or on social media, I do my best to let it roll off my back and ignore them. So, my best compliments are when people ask me when they're going to have a Fangirl for their team, because they love the content and what we are doing
Explain your vision for Fangirl Sports Network—where do you want to see it a year from now?
A year from now, I'd like to have several NFL Fangirls, NBA Fangirls and at least a couple MLB Fangirls. But in the next three to five years, I would like to have a Fangirl for every team in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.
Talk about your staff—what kind of leader are you?
I'm lucky to work with an amazing group of people who are motivated, organized, and efficient! My team is so diligent and work tirelessly to make sure everything is done on time and done the right way. Since I am not only the founder but a Fangirl myself, I tend to lead by example. My team watches me put in countless hours, not to mention my heart and soul, into Fangirl Sports Network, and they follow in suit. When building my company, I look for people who are self-motivated and excited about what we're doing at FGSN. It's not always easy for someone to commit when you need to be available nights and weekends due to game schedules, but I have a great group of people who understand the situation and love it!
Who's your mentor?
My dad is absolutely my mentor. He is probably the hardest working person I know and when he commits, he's all in. He is loyal, smart, patient, and an amazing leader. He is also the most supportive person on the planet and I know he is always in my corner.
What is your best advice for other entrepreneurs out there?
It's important to remember that we all have strengths and we all have weaknesses, and that's okay! Surround yourself with people who know the things you don't and learn from them. It's difficult not to feel protective of a new business, but it's important to listen to the people who have been there and who may know better. Constructive criticism only makes your business stronger. However, don't let negative thoughts or comments shake your confidence. Listen, evaluate, and then decide what is right for you and your business.
What do you want other women in business to learn from you?
Don't allow negativity to get you down. People make comments to and about women that men don't have to deal with. It can be frustrating, hurtful, and even degrading, but remember, that's on those people. Keep your head up, keep working hard, and do your thing.
What's been the best and even life changing experiences since starting the business?
I've been a die-hard San Francisco 49ers fan since I was a little girl. To now be in a place where I have the respect and credibility to be in the press box during games, attending practices, interviewing players in the locker room, and having access to the field is a dream come true. Sometimes I literally pinch myself because I can't believe this is my life. The best sporting event I've attended was this past Super Bowl game in Houston. It was the best Super Bowl game that has ever—and will ever—be played, and to be in that stadium experiencing a part of history was absolutely incredible.
What is it really like to have a passion become your career?
My love of sports has always been my outlet. I've been incredibly lucky to attend some phenomenal sporting events over the years. But that is now also my job and frankly, that makes it even cooler! My office is the stadium, and I wouldn't want it any other way. Having this passion makes my every day exciting and interesting. Don't get me wrong, this business requires A LOT of work, but every time I walk into that Levi's Stadium press box, I can't help but think I'm the luckiest girl in the world.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.