In the age of women rising up and battling stereotypes, there’s been a huge movement of women filling more roles within athletics — a typically male-dominated field. One university that has pushed the importance of women representation? Loyola.
Women currently occupy nine of 25 total administrative roles within Loyola Athletics. There are three female head coaches out of a total of 10 positions and nine of 23 assistant coaches who are female — all statistics Athletics Director Steve Watson said he wants to increase.
It’s already something he’s been working toward. Within the past year alone, he’s hired four women to fill empty roles — some that men had previously occupied.
“I feel great about how far we’ve come in just a few years with the kind of leadership we have in our department,” Watson said. “I know when our athletes are competing [and] when our athletes are doing all the things that they do on campus, to be able to look up to somebody who’s like them, somebody who’s gone through the things that they’ve gone through, is really important.”
Watson referenced Muffet McGraw, the women’s basketball coach at University of Notre Dame. In a press conference before the women’s Final Four, she pointed out how necessary it is to represent women in athletics — just one of the many motions of the movement toward more women in athletics.
“When you look at men’s basketball, 99 percent of the jobs go to men, why shouldn’t 100 or 99 percent of the jobs in women’s basketball go to women?” McGraw said. “Maybe it’s because we only have 10 percent women athletic directors in Division I. People hire people who look like them. That’s the problem.”
Watson said someone who has “really changed things” for the department is Deputy Director of Athletics and Senior Woman Administrator Holly Strauss-O’Brien. She was hired in August 2018 to replace Jermaine Truax and has already made strides to help all athletes and all other administrators, simply by being more accessible.
As the deputy director of athletics, Strauss-O’Brien oversees many of the day-to-day operations, but has more focus on women as the senior woman administrator. Her job “focuses on promoting meaningful representation of women in the leadership and management of college sports,” according to the NCAA position description. She said this means providing perspective on the women’s collegiate landscape to coaches and other administrators.
Watson compared her office to a revolving door. Strauss-O’Brien constantly has someone in her office, whether it’s to provide feedback or just to chat.
“[Women’s increasing prevalence in athletics] has been going on for a long time now with the Title IX movement and making equal opportunity for women in sport,” Strauss-O’Brien said, referring to the law that states no person can be discriminated because of their sex under an educational program or activity receiving federal funding — including collegiate athletics. “Half of our sports here have female student-athletes, so I think it’s important to have female role models and mentors and to see that they can also be at the top.”
Watson said almost everyone in the department leans on her for various things, whether it’s administrative tasks, advising athletes or just being a role model to other women.
Associate Athletic Director of Compliance Shannon Brett said having Strauss-O’Brien has been building up the idea of women role models within the department and helping them thrive.
“Holly’s great,” Brett said. “I think it’s great the environment she creates and the support that she creates.”
Brett works directly with the athletes due to her role as compliance director and said she’s noticed the athletes pick up on the fact that there are people working “who look like them.”
“I think it’s important for them to see that there’s opportunity beyond being an athlete in athletics,” Brett said. “To be able to see a high-level female administrator within your athletic department is a great example and also they can see themselves in that role.”
Not only has there been a focus on athlete mentorship and providing a role model for female athletes, but Watson said the athletics department is focused on building leaders for tomorrow and have done that by filling jobs with young women.
He demonstrated this focus through hiring Assistant Director of Marketing and Ticket Operations Kayli Miller, Assistant Director of Creative Services Mary Kate Ramker and Brett who have all been in their respective positions for close to a year.
Miller does marketing and ticketing for both soccer programs, women’s basketball and softball. She focuses on planning promotions for the season. For those sports, she’s in charge of running everything on game day, but for the others she runs the ticket office.
“Women traditionally aren’t very prominent working in sports,” Miller said. “So it’s really good to get that perspective. We have a lot to offer and we can bring just as much as a man can to the table, so I think it’s really good that Loyola has seen that and continued to take advantage of it and from prosper from it.”
Ramker’s main focus is on graphic design work — game day graphics, schedule posters, web graphics and any other graphic a coach could want or need. She’s the only designer in the entirety of Loyola Athletics. She also strategizes social media plans and helps run the various social media accounts.
Being surrounded by women in an athletics department is inspiring to Ramker because she said it makes her want to work in the department even more.
While Loyola is making strides by putting more women in administrative roles, prominence and recognition in women’s programs seem to lack in comparison to men’s programs.
When the women’s soccer team went to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007, there was little recognition to their efforts compared to the men’s basketball team going to the NCAA tournament the year prior.
There’s also a huge attendance gap at women’s games compared to men’s games, parallel to national trends. The men’s basketball’s home opener brought in 3,795 fans, undoubtedly due to the team’s attention following the Final Four, while the women’s basketball home opener had 301.
“[Having] those role models in front of you and be able to say, ‘Alright, that’s who I want to be like. I want to work as hard as she does,’” Ramker said. “Having a role model that looks like you and being able to see them in the flesh and work their way up that high is super important.”
While Loyola has made many strides in providing the representation it wants for their student-athletes, Watson said he’s still not satisfied.
“I don’t feel like we’re where we need to be yet,” Watson said. “But we’re heading in the right direction.”