Advancing Women’s Hiring in Baseball

Diversity in hiring has been a priority during Rob Manfred’s tenure as commissioner, but there’s still work to be done. (via Arturo Pardavila III)

Every year, there is a different take on the question of who will be the first woman general manager in major league baseball. After all this time, we still only have a handful of names circulating. Nearly 30 years after Kim Ng began her career in baseball, it’s time to stop assuming that the mere presence of more diverse faces is sufficient to ensure that they find top roles in the front office. While this handful might help us meet the minimum requirements of the Selig rule, considering a single candidate from a historically marginalized group for a job opening is ineffective for actually introducing diversity to a position. Or as Stefanie Johnson, David Hekman and Elsa Chan put it in the Harvard Business Review: If There’s Only One Woman in Your Candidate Pool, There’s Statistically No Chance She’ll Be Hired.

In a May 2018 episode of Effectively Wild, Christina Kahrl discussed her ESPNW piece, “Where will MLB’s first woman GM come from?” Of course, this is a complicated question, and the podcast expands upon the story, touching on a number of the issues we must consider when exploring this multifaceted issue. Kahrl notes that women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields have faced gender imbalances throughout their education, which may prepare them for the gender imbalances one would face in the baseball world.

The scientific community has made great strides in promoting inclusivity and gender diversity in technological and engineering disciplines, and considering the parallels between the movement to encourage more women to pursue STEM careers and similar efforts to promote women’s careers in baseball is useful in assessing baseball’s efforts and anticipating future challenges to establishing a more diverse workforce. Even as the STEM community has become more inclusive and diverse at the lower levels, it has become increasingly clear that women are still missing from the upper ranks at technical and scientific companies, in tenured positions in academia, and on the editorial boards of prestigious journals.

STEM education proponents have had to face a challenging reality: Increasing the number of women starting degrees or careers in technological fields and the sciences does not necessarily result in an increase in the number of women in more senior positions. Similarly, even if there are more women in starting jobs baseball front offices, these strides are insufficient to assure ourselves that there will be a female GM in the near future.

While it’s easy to say that it will just take time for these new graduates and young researchers to move their way up the ladder, women are falling off the ladder at an alarmingly high rate. Gender is far from the only demographic trait that make a candidate’s road to success harder. As the scientific community views its diversity initiatives with a more critical eye, we can examine the baseball community with the same lens. But in order to do this, we must first evaluate the state of women in baseball.

There is a relative dearth of women in baseball front offices, a fact that this isn’t shocking to anyone who follows the sport. Kate Morrison and Russell Carleton wrote a thorough series about major league front office hiring practices and how they impact diversity in non-field staff rolls. For metrics, we turn to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES). The 2018 TIDES annual survey showed a “slight” increase in gender hiring of one point as compared to 2017, but that number is still lower than the 2016 score.

As Craig Calcaterra reported regarding the most recent survey, 2017 saw a number of declines from the 2016: “The league scored an 82 in racial hiring, down from 90.5 last year, and went from a 74.3 in gender hiring to 70 this year.” At the team level, the 2017 study gave the major leagues “a D+ at the senior administrator level and a C- at the professional team administrator level.” The MLB office wasn’t much better: “The league office received a C- for gender hiring practices, with women making up 29.3% of its workforce.” This doesn’t bode well for the idea that, over time, we will have more qualified women working in front offices.

It has been easy to attribute the lack of women in the front office to an outdated list of qualifications. There was a time when playing experience was the primary avenue through which to enter an organization; once his playing days were over, a former player could transition into a coaching career, a role in the front office, or scouting.

As noted by Kahrl, Ng broke barriers not only as a woman in the front office, but as an executive who has not played baseball at the professional level. Indeed, the Moneyball era has ushered in another route by which someone who doesn’t have playing experience can move up the organizational ladder. This is evidenced by front office hires having business or financial backgrounds, in addition to computer programming, data science and applied math experience. In theory, an appreciation for a skill set that doesn’t involve picking up a ball or a bat should promote diversity in hiring.

To its credit, MLB has recognized the abundance of white, cisgendered men in front offices, and teams and the league have made efforts to seek out and encourage more diverse participants to throw their hat into the ring. The most prominent example of this effort to introduce more diversity into baseball operations departments is the MLB Diversity Pipeline Program, particularly the Diversity Fellowship Program. The intent is to place talented, racially and gender diverse personnel in the commissioner’s office and in front offices. It’s a start, and the MLB should be commended for taking quantifiable steps in addressing its pervasive homogeneity.

But for our discussion today, we are looking solely at women in front offices, even as we acknowledge that other forms of diverse hiring are extremely important, especially when we consider how various identities intersect with one another. In the inaugural class of 22 extremely well-qualified fellows, more than half are men. While we don’t know how many applications the Diversity Fellowship Program received from women, or how many women apply to front office internships, the flaws in relying upon internships and fellowships to address diversity in hiring have been noted.

As Morrison and Meg Rowley have noted, traditional internships in baseball are low-paying positions without job security or benefits, which limits the applicant pool to those with the financial means to spend 10 months (often longer) in pursuit of their dream job. Moreover, these internships often require extensive networking, with job seekers making connections with someone who can give them a leg up over the other applicants. When everyone else has a business or sports management degree from an Ivy League, applicant will want to distinguish themselves from the pack.

One way to make connections in the baseball community, while also showcasing your insights into the game, is to simply connect pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), and write. Baseball writing has become a means to audition for a role in a front office. We’re no longer looking at a niche group on Usenet; anyone can start a blog, and social media allow writers to easily promote their work. Publications like FanGraphs, the Hardball Times and Baseball Prospectus, as well as the plethora of team-specific sites, many of which team employees and higher level media follow, have become a recruitment tool.

Now all you need is a blog and a degree in statistics or math or computer science! And anyone, regardless of gender, can get one of those, and just head over to teamworkonline.com to apply for a job, right? The democratization of baseball media through twitter and independent blogs, not to mention established publications, has lent the impression that the barrier to entry for new analysts has never been lower. And in a sense, it hasn’t been. But are qualified candidates looking at the job listings on these websites, and successfully parlaying them into job opportunities? Just as importantly, are they realistically able to accept those positions when they do find them?

Thus Spoke Baseball: Another Look at the Language of the Game
In other words, baseball gets the glossary it deserves.

As Morrison has noted:

Now that baseball writing, or public-facing evaluation, seems to be somewhere that teams are attempting to use as a development system for their future hirees, it would seem that more doors are open—and yet the numbers have gotten worse across the board.”

Morrison notes, as many others have, that baseball social media are a particularly harsh environment for a woman:

A good number of team-based communities are either indifferent or actively hostile toward their female fans, in particular, and this part of the culture is not limited to those communities. It’s hard to find women writing about baseball when those women are inherently treated as something lesser—when the default is to assume that they don’t know those jobs.”

While there’s a general understanding that Twitter is a cesspool (or, as one recent story put it: “Twitter is a fun place for men; a hellscape for women”), even the comments sections on more erudite sites can suffer from an confrontational or disrespectful attitude. When the community itself is less than welcoming, if not downright hostile, to those women who seek it out, it can deter minority voices from sharing their ideas about the game.

That said, the concept that professional baseball teams would be looking at the internet for potential employees may come as a surprise to those outside the community. In a 2017 interview, Ng commented that part of the gender disparity may simply be due to women not being aware of the job opportunities in baseball, and not recognizing how their skill sets could fit into a front office. It isn’t a matter of finding qualified candidates; there are plenty of women who more than meet the qualifications of your typical quantitative analyst job listing.

But if the people with the right skill set don’t know that these jobs exist, how can you expect those qualified candidates to apply? Unless you are actively looking for a job in baseball, qualified candidates aren’t necessarily seeing the job postings on TeamWorkOnline or FanGraphs. Women with programming skills and data science backgrounds may be looking at more traditional job sites such as the Society of Women Engineers and the Association for Women in Science, as well as newer organizations, such as Women Who Code and R-Ladies. These sites advertising to a different audience — specifically an audience specializing in the same skill sets listed in analytics job requisitions, with their own communities — would be a simple way to spread the word.

In the same interview, Ng noted, “I think another part of it is, we probably need to do a little bit better job reaching out and communicating that, and educating young, college kids that those opportunities do exist and really, in my mind, keeping it at the forefront of our minds when we hire.” Kahrl echoes this sentiment in her own story: “For baseball, that means more than creating equal opportunities, or advertising them. It has meant finding the women who are ready, and preparing those who could be…. So to integrate women into the talent pool of people making baseball decisions, you have to start at the beginning, where people start their careers.”

These are valid points, especially as one considers potential candidates’ college major. Again, we can look to the scientific community’s diversity initiatives; there has been intense pressure to introduce girls to science and technology at younger ages, with the hopes that they will maintain their interest as they grow. In fact, in 2017, a group from Girls Who Code visited MLBAM’s headquarters, meeting with 12 female MLBAM employees for a discussion about careers. It’s not surprising that these young women were not aware of these behind-the-scenes roles; it’s hard to envision ourselves in a position when we don’t see people who look like us in those roles.

Representation matters, and at baseball games, in the virtual pages of baseball websites and blogs, and on television broadcasts, we don’t see many women. It’s easy to assume that there just aren’t jobs for women in baseball teams when you see only men on the field, in the dugout, and in the front office. Even when a woman does meet the explicit qualifications of a job requisition, she may not realize it.

When stripped of baseball language, a quantitative analyst position will likely be appealing to a number of women with data science or coding experience, but a great deal of research has shown that the language of job advertisements carries an unconscious gender bias. We can change some of the implicit language, but most every baseball job listing carries with it the “must love baseball!!!” requirement. Who is to say who “loves” baseball enough to be qualified for this job? How much does that love really alter a qualified applied math major’s ability to contribute to a major league club?

This becomes yet another way by which the job listings themselves can weed women out. Women tend not to apply for jobs unless we meet every one of the qualifications. Men apply for a job when they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them. Men are also more likely to send in their resume, completely unsolicited.

A simple explanation for this disparity is that women are not socialized to be as confident as men. This is evidenced at an early age, when girls perceive themselves as being less competent than boys, even when receiving the same test grades. It’s a phenomenon that persists throughout adulthood, further increasing the disparity in the roles for which men and women are hired.

It’s not that women aren’t competent —it’s that often, when women don’t understand something, they assume everyone else understands, they are alone in their misgivings, and therefore they are incompetent. Men, on the other hand, are socialized to assume that no one else understands. A computer science professor observed, “They think ‘I don’t get this, everyone else in the class doesn’t get it either.’”

The constant questioning of belonging echoes an observation made by Alexis Brudnicki during her time at MLB scout school. Brudnicki’s experience is not unlike those of other women in a male-dominated field; she found that many of her male cohorts had the same questions she had. It’s this lack of confidence which serves to remind us that women may need an extra nudge, and a vote of confidence, when it comes to applying for jobs for which they may think they aren’t qualified.

The founder of Girls Who Code has an excellent piece on why we should teach girls to be brave, rather than not perfect when it comes to anything in life, but particularly when it comes to applying for jobs. We need to encourage women to apply, even if they don’t meet every single one of the qualifications. This goes beyond making people generally aware that these roles exist; we need to reach out and encourage women to pursue these roles, and specifically bring job listings to the attention of well qualified women.

How do we identify women who are well qualified to work in a front office? It’s a question that brings us back to networking. It has been noted many times that baseball hiring practices lean heavily on networks and personal connections — sometimes jobs aren’t formally listed on job hunting sites. This isn’t in itself surprising, and networking as a mode of job hunting is common in a variety of fields. In the past, networking in baseball would often encompass referring former teammates for positions, thus propagating the practice of men recruiting other men. Now that we’ve expanded beyond the playing-as-prerequisite days, networking is about promoting the work of others, shifting the focus to helping former coworkers, and referring them for positions, which can again propagate the practice of men recruiting men if the publications from which teams draw are not themselves diverse.

So what is stopping women from networking? At an in-person networking event, it can be intimidating for a woman to walk into a room dominated by men. It can also be precarious, as networking events typically occur in the presence of alcohol. There is a sense that women need to protect themselves from unwanted advances from men. But even in the most sanitized setting, it takes courage to step in and introduce yourself to a group of strangers, especially when everyone seems to know one another. These issues are compounded when there are fewer well-developed professional organizations specifically directed toward your demographic group that might help to smooth the way.

A more direct mentoring relationship can help create networking opportunities for women — but even in these one-on-one situations, there is a segment of the male population that worries about interactions with women in the #MeToo era. In particular,

male managers are three times as likely to say they are uncomfortable mentoring women and twice as uncomfortable working alone with a woman. The hesitation to meet with women outside of work is even more pronounced: Senior men were 3.5 times more likely to hesitate having a work dinner with a junior female colleague than a male one–and five times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with a junior woman.”

That this hesitation suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the behavior and circumstances that actually lead to and constitute harassment does little to undo the damage of refusing women these opportunities. In a field where mentoring and having the right connections can alter your career path, this can be devastating for a woman. Despite the evidence demonstrating the benefits of mentoring someone who is unlike you, both for the mentor and the mentee, mentors often seek out a mentee like themselves, thereby propagating homogeneity in demographics and ideas. This isn’t always, or even often, a deliberate exclusionary tactic; it’s in our nature to see a younger version of ourselves, and to reach out a hand to help.

A seemingly easy solution to the mentoring relationship is simply to pair a woman mentor with a woman mentee. But in a field with so few women, this is less than ideal, even if the mentor takes on a few mentees. This issue can compound for women of color, who are even more poorly represented in the field than white women are. And more broadly, this can hurt a mentor’s career, as women and minorities are penalized for promoting diversity: “High status groups, mainly white men, are given freedom to deviate from the status quo because their competence is assumed based on their membership in the high status group.”

In contrast, when women and nonwhite leaders advocate for other women and nonwhites, it highlights their low-status demographics, activating the stereotype of incompetence, and leads to worse performance ratings.” In other words, there is evidence demonstrating that white men promoting diversity are afforded more consideration than a marginalized group promoting diversity. Part of the task of programs like the Diversity Fellowship, then, must be in shifting the responsibility of diversifying front offices from employees from traditionally marginalized groups, who may incur professional penalties themselves, to their white, male colleagues for whom the consequences are more diffuse.

Ultimately, the problems in networking and mentoring bring us to an issue pervading the culture at large, which affects women in scientific fields as well. Although many more women are graduating with degrees in STEM related fields than have in the past, there are still relatively few women represented in the upper echelons of science and technology. Hiring rates remain low, but hiring is also obviously only the beginning of the issue.

Extensive studies have been undertaken to understand the leaky pipeline, particularly in the fields of mathematics and engineering. Unfortunately, a male-dominated culture remains a deterrent to women in mathematics; one mathematician’s description of her male colleagues’ rankings of their female colleagues echoed a similar ranking observed by Brudnicki at MLB scout school.

The culture in engineering is equally challenging. A 2016 paper entitled “Persistence Is Cultural: Professional Socialization and the Reproduction of Sex Segregation” examined the disparity between the number of women pursuing educations in engineering, and the number of women employed as engineers. The general conclusion: Group dynamics of teamwork and internships deter many women in the profession. Their contributions during internships and team-based activities are often marginalized and undervalued. It isn’t the structured activities or classroom teachings that are lacking; rather, it is the persistence of older gender roles in team based activities, or, in the baseball analogy, the blogosphere or on Twitter. It is exhausting to continually have your qualifications questioned, and your work overlooked.

Of course, there are additional complications to consider in baseball. While there are certainly a number of scientific positions which require long hours and extensive travel, there are few professions having the demanding travel schedule of a baseball scout. Baseball isn’t just a career; it’s a lifestyle, with a very precarious work-life balance, and it’s an old fashioned sport with old fashioned views. Goodness knows we have seen stories of the demands on a scout’s personal life. Although a woman at the beginning of her career in baseball may not have a family, there is still a persistent thinking in a subset of the population that believes that a woman’s family should take priority over her career. In some professions, women’s ability to balance their home life and their work life, and to prioritize work over their family, is questioned, all while women’s desires to have families is assumed, sometimes incorrectly.

And not only do women bear the brunt of the invisible labor at home, they are often tasked with emotional labor at work, which has a noticeable effect on their careers. There is often an implicit understanding, based on the combination of heteronormative values and gender roles, that it is the woman’s role to maintain her partner’s life while he is away at work.

This is mirrored in baseball, and starts from the minor leagues. High status groups, mainly white men, are given freedom to deviate from the status quo because their competence is assumed based on their membership in the high status group. When players receive their assignments for the season, or they are traded to another team, it’s often the wives and girlfriends who secure housing arrangements for the family. While dad is away, working, mom is at home, taking care of the kids and the household. Similarly, women working in baseball are confronted with questions of “choosing” and “balancing” in their professional lives, all while providing emotional support to their male colleges that is assumed, rather than appreciated as essential to a functioning workplace. It is going to require a massive cultural shift, both from within baseball and outside of baseball, to overcome these biases.

That said, there are individual contributions one can make to address the gender disparity in baseball. A small but powerful action anyone can take is to simply call attention to the contributions of women, and amplify their voices as valuable and equal. The journalism world has already made efforts in this direction; Adrienne LaFrance wrote on her own experiences in addressing gender imbalance, and her work highlighting the voices of women. LaFrance responds to the trite “we should look for the most qualified candidate, not a woman” by noting the bias in the assumption that the “most qualified” candidate is necessarily NOT a woman. “By substantially under-representing an entire gender, I’m missing out on all kinds of viewpoints, ideas, and experiences that might otherwise sharpen and enhance my reporting.”

The science journalist Ed Yong followed on the work of LaFrance, correcting his own unconscious biases, and reporting on the results. Despite the perceived underrepresentation of women in STEM fields, Yong found that a very minimal effort on his part resulted in an equal balance of male and female voices in his writing. The scientific community has taken it upon themselves to make finding these voices easier, as communities such as Diverse Sources and 500 Women Scientists maintain searchable spreadsheets, minimizing the effort it takes to find a new voice. And there is the possibility that you, dear reader, can find a new voice yourself. Introduce yourself to someone at a FanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus meetup. Better yet, if you know someone who has a penchant for numbers or baseball, let them know that these opportunities exist, and aren’t just limited to white, cisgendered men.

These small actions make a small impression on a huge problem, but we need to continue to chip away. Increasing diversity in any arena requires buy-in and a concerted effort from those who are in positions to promote the work of marginalized voices. Baseball will never be able to address all of these problems; the intersecting social issues at play are beyond its reach to correct. But it can clean up its own house.

The efforts in STEM show that the issues continue beyond the initial hiring, but that persistent effort can improve the success rate over time. There is a need for the white, male face of the front office to spend a little extra time seeking out someone unlike themselves, and listening to them and connecting them to others. Unfortunately, where they have the opportunity to elevate the voices of women, they choose instead to repeatedly ignore the voices of women. Both baseball and society at large suffer as a result.

References and Resources


Stephanie Springer is an organic chemist turned patent examiner. Follow her on Twitter @stephaniekays.
newest oldest most voted
Eric Robinson
Member
Member

Thanks for this well-researched and insightful article. I appreciated the depth it went into for the reasons why and that it was presented in a very readable way. Great job!

Shalesh
Member
Shalesh
I’m all for having the best people in every profession and encouraging talent from everywhere to apply. And yes, I’m for advertising jobs more widely to reach non-traditional groups and to offer seminars and internships to these groups to expand awareness and comfort for these positions. That said, your well-written article seems to go much further into defined outcomes rather than let’s expand the potential talent pool and we’ll use objective methods to pick the best. So a few q’s: 1) What is the M/F split amongst baseball-game attendees? (Seems to be 51+ aged white males) Amongst the Fangraphs reader-base?… Read more »
Las Vegas Wildcards
Member
Las Vegas Wildcards
More women will inevitably be hired in baseball, but we can’t deviate from the best qualified candidate. Discrimination is discrimination, regardless of what gender and race is involved. It’s simply going to take more time. If you want a career badly enough, most young people should be able to handle an unpaid or low-paying internship. It’s worked for thousands and thousands of people. No one is entitled to a career in baseball or anywhere else, it’s not how the world works. And it’s perfectly valid for an employer to mention the job applicant must love the job, that’s true of… Read more »
REDACTED
Member
REDACTED
The comments on this article are pretty disturbing to me. Stephanie has done an excellent job of laying out not only the challenges faced by women in entering the field, but the benefits of encouraging and supporting them in their efforts. Her effort and thoughtfulness have been repaid by complaints about how “diversity” is an underhanded ploy to undermine the obviously superior merits of (mostly white) men. Perhaps this arises from a need to protect your ego when you see talented and capable women rising faster in organizations or taking coveted spots in industries that you’ve deemed to be “yours”.… Read more »
Dennis Bedard
Member
Dennis Bedard

I posted a comment on this article the day it came out. It was very critical of the point of view presented. There were a few other comments that also laid bare the absurdity of the diversity industry. Now they have been deleted. Are you guys now in the censorship business?