As I settle in to watch the Los Angeles Lakers play tonight in the National Basketball Association (NBA), my biggest concern will be about LeBron James’ health. I won’t give a second thought to who is officiating the game and as to whether one of the officials is a woman. OK, for the sake of this blog post I did check, and one of the 5 female NBA referees is working the game.
The reason I bothered checking was this article about female officials in the NBA. The league is seen as more progressive than its North American counterparts (football, baseball, hockey, and soccer) when it comes to employment and social justice issues. I was curious what the league was doing to encourage more women to become NBA officials and how they supported them.
The first thing that struck me was that the league establishes multiple pipelines for attracting referees. If you have been a ref in one of them, you can get a look from the NBA. And the league is not concerned whether they had officiated men’s or women’s games. As long as you put in the time and you were good, you have a chance.
Once in the NBA, both male and female officials work both the top level and development leagues (the latter known as the G League) in order to gain more experience. A little less than half of the full time G League referees are women.
So, the NBA throws out a large recruiting net (colleges, international leagues, etc.) and provides ample opportunities for the new officials to hone their skills, even when working with the top players. Of course, the publisher of the article is also a broadcaster of NBA and WNBA games, so I wasn’t expecting any hard hitting accusations. But, the NBA’s reputation for inclusiveness seems to have paid off in terms of the smoothness of the transition to having more women officiate games played by men. It also means that the league does not have to bring out the trumpets each time a woman is a game referee.
The lesson from the NBA is that proper planning and culture can lead to diversifying workforces. Taking steps to ensure high quality development and performance can make the revolutionary turn into the ordinary.