Lately Black women have been on all of our screens – television, computer, or mobile. Whether its Kamala Harris becoming the first Black and South Asian woman to become Vice President of the United States, National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman delivering an address at this year’s Presidential inauguration, or Rosalind Brewer becoming the third Black woman to helm a Fortune 500 company as CEO, it is clear that Black women are finally being elevated to the positions they’ve long fought for and deserved. Yet, while these women have dominated the limelight across television talk shows and online media outlets, there are two Black women who have also achieved a series of firsts in the world of sports who deserve a moment of appreciation.
Late last year, Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox announced that they were hiring Bianca Smith as a minor league coach. With this hire, Smith becomes the first Black female coach in professional baseball history. Around the same time, the National Football League’s Washington Football Team hired Jennifer King as a full-time assistant coach. As of January 2021, King is officially the NFL’s first Black female coach. For both women, it was hard to imagine themselves in positions that had never been held by Black women. Said Smith in an interview, “I'd never seen another black woman coaching, especially in baseball…So it just never crossed my mind that that might be an opportunity." King echoed the same view in an interview with ESPN, noting that when she was younger, “I didn't have anyone that looked anything like me working.” Both women spent time in their respective leagues before being hired to their current positions. Smith interned with the Cincinnati Reds and Texas Rangers before joining the Red Sox (especially striking since the Red Sox were the last baseball team to integrate and the only team that was forced to integrate by the government). King worked with Ron Rivera, the current head coach of the Washington Football Team, for two years when he was the head coach in North Carolina. Yet for all the experience they bring to their teams, both women, by breaking into professional leagues that have male and female fans yet have only recently begun hiring women into management and coaching positions, will by their visibility create new experiences and new opportunities for other Black women and women of color. Perhaps in 2021 the legal community will follow their example.
While the coaching staffs across professional sports leagues may look more diverse this year, the highest offices in private law firms remain overwhelmingly white and male. A 2019 survey conducted by Vault/MCAA determined that women of color make up approximately 5% of non-equity partners and approximately 14% of associates. A 2019 NAWL survey echoed the same findings. These statistics for women of color in law clearly demonstrate a negative correlation. The closer Black women and women of color get to positions of power, the less likely it will be that they will find people in those positions who look like them. Put another way, there remains little gender, racial, or ethnic diversity amongst the highest paid partners or managers of firms. These surveys reflect the truth in the news of the hires of Jennifer King and Bianca Smith. There are still many, many firsts that need to become obsolete before the legal profession looks like the rest of society. Until then, the examples of Jennifer King and Bianca Smith show that there is reason to keep hope alive.