WABN – Five Winning Attributes for Female Athlete Entrepreneurs

By Terri Milner Tarquini

February 1, 2018
   In The Loop Extended Articles
WABN-Five Winning Attributes for Female Athlete Entrepreneurs

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Figure skaters have all the tools for being successful entrepreneurs.

The Women Athletes Business Network (WABN) was born from the EY firm, one of the world’s largest services firm with 231,000 employees in over 700 offices in 150 countries around the world. The WABN identified “five winning attributes” that are key in the journey from sport to a founder’s chair– and it’s as if they took a page out of a life lessons of figure skating playbook.

The attributes were culled from in-depth interviews conducted with entrepreneurs from a variety of industries who are current or former female athletes from a wide range of sports.

Their findings are noteworthy: 94 percent of women in the C-suite (a term for a corporation’s most senior executives) played sport, 52 percent at the university level or beyond. Aided by their ability to see projects through to completion, motivate others and build strong teams, 74 percent of executive women believe a background in sport can help accelerate a woman’s career. Athletes also have seven percent higher annual salaries than their non-athletic colleagues.

Winning attribute number one: confidence.

In the WABN’s research, confidence was referred to as the number one “success-maker.”

“Skaters know how to convey confidence,” said Emily Hughes, 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships silver medalist and 2006 Olympian. Hughes graduated from Harvard in 2011 and worked for Deloitte Consulting in New York as a business analyst and the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland, before joining Google in San Francisco in 2014 in a strategy and operations role. She has been with Johnson & Johnson since August 2017 as a senior manager on the health technology team. “Having confidence when it comes time to present, whether in a program or in a meeting, can play a big part in success. But, also, being able to seem confident even when maybe you’re not feeling it, can sometimes even be more important. Skaters are good at that too.”

Winning attribute number two: single-mindedness.

Female entrepreneurs cited the ability to turn barriers into motivators as a marketable trait in the career world. Much like athletes, those in charge of a business are not sitting on the sidelines; they are totally focused and giving their all.

“It is a fact in skating that you have to fall in order to get better,” Hughes said. “My coach, Bonni Retzkin, used to say that she’d rather have me fall than cheat my jumps. It took me four years to get my double axel. I fell a lot, but I got it.

Winning attribute number three: passion.

Athletes thrive on success. So do entrepreneurs. These two pursuits foster a love of competing and seeing hard work pay off.

“Athletes have stuck with their sport over many years and decades,” said Holly Humphrey, director of external communication at EY and a WABN director since its inception. “They knew what they wanted and they kept finding that fire to keep going toward that goal.”

Winning attribute number four: leadership.

Almost all skaters still have words and advice from their coaches that come back to them from time to time. Many of the sportswomen entrepreneurs interviewed said that sports taught them the value of learning from a great coach, who taught them the mechanics to improve, but also bolstered their confidence.

“Athletes who have been at the forefront of their sport are uniquely positioned to take on leadership roles outside their sport,” Humphrey said. “All of the attributes are there. Certainly, figure skaters with their fall-and-get-back-up mentality have the grit and determination.”

Winning attribute number five: resilience.

Not only do athletes cope with setbacks, they actually see them as in integral part of the learning curve. Figure skaters, used to being subjectively evaluated, are uniquely groomed for accepting failures and learning from them in their post-competitive life.

“I call it constructive feedback,” Hughes said. “If all you hear is how great you are doing, you will never improve. As athletes, skaters are constantly being told what to do differently in order to get better, so we understand it when we get that same type of critiquing outside the ice rink. We can take that quality into the workplace and use it there to improve as well.”

WABN’s mission is clear: to get former or current sportswomen to realize their potential and to see the big picture of what their already-ingrained qualities can mean for their post-competitive careers.

“The traits female athletes possess cannot be taught in a classroom,” Humphrey said. “We are invested in getting them over the hump from sport to the workforce. They have a lifetime’s worth of skills they’ve already developed that can mean so much in whatever field they choose to go into.”

Visit EY Women Athletes Business Network on Facebook and read the upcoming story in PS Magazine for more information on the WABN.