In its efforts to get more women into administrative, coaching, officiating and scouting jobs, the NFL will offer a careers forum during Pro Bowl week.
The forum in Orlando, Florida, from Jan. 25-27 is designed to educate and prepare women to fill such positions. The league's Rooney Rule to enhance diversity in hiring was expanded this year to include interviewing women for all open executive positions at the NFL office.
Earlier this month, the NFL hired Samantha Rapoport, a former tackle football player who previously worked for the league and for USA Football. As director of football development, Rapoport will oversee creating new programming to develop a talent pipeline.
''Really the mission in my role is to provide opportunities for females in positions traditionally held by men,'' she says, ''and to enhance gender equality.
''In my previous role I oversaw the female development in tackle football at USA Football. I saw thousands of women in this country who know football very well, can talk X's and O's ... but felt disenfranchised from football programs. I thought it was a void and a disconnect. We want to connect the two worlds. Both sides are open to it, they just don't know each other yet.''
The Orlando forum will run in conjunction with Pro Bowl week, which includes youth and high school programs. The women's event is one of several Rapoport hopes to make available to women over the next year or so. It will coincide with the fourth annual Women's World Football Games (Jan. 25-29) that will bring together more than 250 female football players from around the world for five days of training, skill sessions and 11-on-11 competitions.
All attendees will be entered into the league's diverse talent community, an invite-only online recruitment platform that encourages quality candidates with diverse backgrounds to join its ranks through a shared talent acquisition database across the NFL and its 32 franchises.
''We aim to introduce more women into the pipeline,'' Rapoport says. ''General managers have told us they're interested, but they don't know where to find these women. I will be able to provide candidates for hire through this program.''
In December, the NFL will hold a football career forum in association with the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta that features historically black colleges. The event will host men and women, and Rapoport hopes many women knowledgeable about football will be exposed to the people handling interviewing and hiring within the sport.
Rapoport also is advocating for the advent of an NFL gender diversity subcommittee. It would lean on many of the successful women within the league and on the men who have contributed in gender diversity.
''People are so excited about this and I've already been contacted by other major leagues, too,'' she says, ''with them asking how this came to be and is it something they should do. It's the enthusiasm around gender diversity. It's a positive thing that is happening, and with all this momentum we can create a cultural change in sports.''
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