WNBA leads all leagues in racial and gender hiring practices

With women and people of color in high-profile team positions, the Sparks are not only champions on the court, but are championing for diversity and inclusion in the front office. Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Today we released the 2016 WNBA racial and gender report card, which shows that the WNBA continues to be by far the best of all leagues in racial and gender hiring practices.

I speak at many events across the country on the importance of whom we listen to and who advises us. I address many social justice issues facing young people today and conclude that if there were more women and people of color in leadership positions, I am confident that we would focus more on issues like racism, violence, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, drug abuse, child abuse and human trafficking. In that context, I am, of course, speaking about those holding public office and in positions that can influence how we deal with those issues.

I believe that also applies to our leagues and teams in the world of sports. More diverse and inclusive leaders would help them address issues they are often confronting.

When we write the racial and gender report cards on Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA, Major League Soccer, college sport and the WNBA, our primary goal is to call attention to areas needing improvement in order to provide more opportunities for women and people of color in professional sports. While the grades for racial hiring practices have improved in most of those report cards over the years, the grades for gender hiring practices lag behind significantly. Even the NBA, the most progressive league in men's sports, fails to get an A for gender hiring practices. The most recent gender hiring practice grades for the leagues and colleges are as follows: NBA: B, NFL: C-plus, MLB: C/C-plus, MLS: B; college sport: C-plus.

The WNBA, on the other hand, has achieved at least an A for gender hiring for the past decade.

I'm sure many will respond "well, the WNBA is a women's league," but such gender equality in leadership positions is not always the norm, even in when it comes to women's sports. More than 60 percent of all women's college teams are coached by men and nearly 50 percent of all assistant coaches of women's college teams are men.

Additionally, the WNBA continues to be an industry leader in several areas in addition to gender hiring. This year marked the 20th season of the WNBA, and it was capped by the diversity exemplified by the 2016 WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks. The Sparks organization includes an owner of color in Earvin "Magic" Johnson, a female of color as president and COO in Christine Simmons, and a female of color at general manager in Penny Toler, showing that the Sparks are not only champions on the court, but are championing for diversity and inclusion in the front office.

We released the report Wednesday with the WNBA earning an A-plus overall and an A-plus for racial hiring and an A for gender hiring in 2016. I was the primary author of the report with co-authors Kirsten Nieuwendam, Erin Davison and Caryn Grant.

This year's report saw increases in the people of color holding professional level staff positions at the league office (26.1 percent), team vice president positions (11 percent) and team professional administration positions (33.4 percent). Increases in women holding assistant coach positions (56.5 percent), team vice president positions (26.6 percent) and team professional administration positions (44.4 percent) were also noted.

However, there are certainly some areas that need improvement. The percentage of women holding senior team administrator positions decreased to 24.4 percent, the lowest in a decade and earning a D-plus for this category, and women holding team vice president positions remained low at 26.6 percent earning a C. Additionally, in a league in which 75.5 percent of players are people of color, the WNBA also received a B-plus for general managers of color (18.2 percent, the lowest since 2007) and a B-minus for team vice presidents of color (11 percent) despite increasing over the past three season.

But overall the WNBA is the best. Led by new president Lisa Borders, the WNBA continues to lead the way in terms of racial and gender diversity amongst all professional leagues. The WNBA again received the highest number of A's as well as the lowest number of grades below an A in all categories compared to men's professional leagues. Borders, who had been vice mayor of Atlanta and president of the city council, became WNBA president in February.

Such an example is set at the league level. The WNBA receives high marks annually for its diversity initiatives for employee learning and development, recruitment, supplier diversity and community relations. The WNBA made history alongside the NBA as the first professional sports leagues to march in and include a float in the NYC Pride March on June 26.

Even with the best record in sports in terms of racial and gender hiring, it is important that the WNBA does not stop striving for improvement. While the WNBA received an A-plus for gender hiring of head coaches this season based on having more than 40 percent of those positions held by women, still less than half (41.7) of the 12 teams in this women's league are being coached by female head coaches. As the WNBA continues to be the lead the way for professional sports organizations and we seek to see the other leagues make strides in this direction and eventually display the positive consistency demonstrated here, we should never stop encouraging our sports leagues and other organizations with such power and social influence, to strive for greater inclusion and diversity efforts. I am glad that WNBA takes this challenge to heart.

Richard E. Lapchick is the chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program in the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick also directs UCF's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, is the author of 16 books and the annual racial and gender report card, and is the president of the National Consortium for Academics and Sport. He has been a regular commentator for ESPN.com on issues of diversity in sport. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick and on Facebook at facebook.com/richard.lapchick.