Kathryn Olson leads Women's Sports Foundation
Kathryn Olson, the CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation, is next up in our Power Play series, which highlights women in the sports business.
espnW: You've been the CEO of the WSF since April of 2010. Tell us a little bit about your responsibilities.
Kathryn Olson: My responsibilities cover programming, delivering our mission, marketing and driving awareness, showing the benefit of sport and physical activity, and, we're a nonprofit, so raising money.
espnW: Before coming to the Women's Sports Foundation, you were the SVP, chief marketing officer for Shutterfly. You've also been the chief marketing officer for LeapFrog Enterprises and the EVP of marketing for Nordstrom.com. What made you decide to take over the reins at the WSF?
KO: My career has always been consumer marketing with leading brands. I knew that at some point, I wanted to run a nonprofit and it would be in an area around which I had a passion. I joined the board of WSF in 2005. When the CEO role opened up, it was a natural transition. I couldn't have predicted it.
espnW: Your organization is all about highlighting women in sports. Are you an athlete yourself and if so, what sports do you play or watch?
KO: My favorite sport is downhill skiing. I absolutely love it. I also do hiking and cycling. In terms of being a spectator, basketball is great. The game is so exciting and can change so quickly.
espnW: In 1971, 300,000 girls played high school sports. Data shows that the number is more like 3 million today. As CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation, what is your plan to keep this number growing for years to come?
KO: Compliance at the high school level. Despite great increases, there are still 1.3 million fewer opportunities for girls than boys at the high school level. Also, the GoGirlGo! program, where we go into communities where girls don't have access to sport. If girls don't learn to be active by age 10, there's only a one in 10 chance that they'll be active later in life.
espnW: About 25 million children under the age of 17 are either overweight or obese. How can we fix this through sports?
KO: When the White House issued its report on obesity, it revealed they're starting to measure it at age 2. Access to places to play, healthier eating habits and access to physical activity are the keys to lowering those statistics. You really need all three of those things.
espnW: Women's sports are receive eight percent of all print and television sports media coverage. Is change coming?
KO: The biggest change today is that athletes have the ability to promote themselves. That's the power of social media. I know what athletes such as Jessica Mendoza and Jennie Finch are doing because I'm following them on Twitter.
espnW: We just passed the 39th anniversary of Title IX on June 23rd. What are your plans for the big 4-0 next year?
KO: The kickoff to our celebration was launching our new site June 23. The site brings the voices of our athlete to life. A second part of how we're celebrating is asking people through Facebook to join in on the celebration. We'd love to have people donate their money and time to empower others. We'll also be having conferences throughout the year, including one in May at our facility at the University of Michigan, where we do research, including looking at injury prevention for ACL tears and head injuries.
espnW: Complete this sentence: "Without Title IX, female athletes today..."
KO: ... would still be back in the dark ages, when participation was close to one in 27. Title IX has benefited participation and perception. Girls who played sports used to be looked upon as being unusual and different, now it's normal and cool.
espnW: According to the research organization Catalyst, women hold only 13.5 percent of executive officer jobs. Since you are one of those individuals, what advice do you have for other women on how to secure one of those top-level positions?
KO: Believe in yourself and the work that you're doing. Continue to perform and drive the business. It's all about results. It's also important to follow your passion. You want to be doing something you like because work is nonstop.