ORLANDO, Fla. -- The WNBA remains a leader in hiring women and minorities to top positions.
The WNBA joined the NBA in setting the benchmark for professional leagues when it received a combined "A" on Wednesday for its diversity efforts. The grades were released in the annual report by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
The combined "A" the league received for race and gender makeup marked the eighth time since 2001 the WNBA has scored that highly. The Racial and Gender Report Card examines major sports leagues' diversity in management at league offices and at the team level, as well as for coaches and other support personnel.
The NBA also received a combined "A" grade in June. In their most recent reports, both Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer were given a combined grade of "B-plus" and the NFL received a "B."
Richard Lapchick, the study's primary author, said that he is most impressed that the WNBA continues to have several female owners, which he believes is helping set the agenda for the league overall.
"I think ownership has been the hardest area to crack in all the leagues," Lapchick said. "The more that happens, the better the sign of the progress for the league. As teams get sold ... more women are interested than we thought in purchasing teams and that's reflected in grades this year."
Though the league lost one female head coach the past year, it added one black coach. The WNBA also made history in April with the appointment of Laurel J. Richie as president; she became the first minority woman to hold that title with a professional sports league.
In addition, the percentages of women and minorities holding professional-level staff positions increased significantly in 2011. Women hold 76 percent of those positions in 2011, up 7 percent from 2010. The number for African-Americans in those jobs also increased from 24 to 29 percent.
And, for the second consecutive year, the WNBA maintained a historic all-time high of having 28 percent of team senior administrators who were minorities.
"I think the thing that other leagues are so far behind WNBA is in the gender hiring side," Lapchick said. "I think the NBA is only one that's close and I think that as they look at the models the WNBA has set up they may be able learn something."
Lapchick said he recently spoke with an NFL official who said the league is interested in setting up a career path for female managers in the NFL. While he applauds that development, he noted that "those are things that the WNBA has been doing since its inception."