ORLANDO, Fla. – If you watch professional sports, you’ve no doubt noticed changes over the years.
Beyond extended overtime rules, the elongated replay reviews and how fouls are called, there’s a noticeable difference on the field and on the court: women.
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According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport yearly report card, women made up nearly 40% of the NFL league office in the 2021 NFL season.
Basketball, also an arena previously dominated by men, is also now seeing more girl power. According to NBA.com, women officials now make up 8% of the 75-member officiating staff with 6 female referees -- a big jump since 1997 when Violet Palmer became the first woman to officiate an NBA game.
It’s not just on the sidelines, it’s also in the front office.
Shelly Wilkes is one example. She currently serves as senior vice president of marketing and social responsibility with the Orlando Magic.
She’s seen firsthand the change that’s come over the years.
“Eight percent is great, but it’s not enough,” Wilkes said.
She made history as the first female president in G league history, serving as president of the Lakeland Magic, the G league affiliate of the Orlando Magic. Wilkes was responsible for overseeing the day-to-day business operations of the Lakeland Magic from December 2016-July 2020.
While she’s been able to make history, her journey is one that many young girls can resonate with.
Shelly was the only girl in a family with four brothers in Fort Myers, so she knows what it’s like being surrounded by males.
But she’s never felt less than.
“Representation matters, more young girls are seeing women referees on the sidelines and you’re going to start seeing more young girls in sports,” Wilkes said.
Her message to other young women who hope to break down barriers in male dominate industries is to be fearless.
“Don’t have fear, don’t let that stop you. Go find people in industries that you want to get into and reach out to them,” Wilkes said.