Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
If anyone knows the pressure to strive forward, break new ground and succeed despite the unknown, it’s Ndidi Massay. In her role as vice president of workplace culture and diversity initiatives for CBS Sports, Massay is charting new territory. Shortly after George Floyd was murdered, the network was looking for someone who could take charge immediately to boost the network’s diversity and community service. Massay’s leadership style matched perfectly.
“You get in, you get it started and you get it done,” she says.
CBS Sports already had a solid reputation for inclusion, “but we can always be better,” Massay says. Her top goals include building a more diverse workforce, with better retention, and more senior level diversity that includes more women of color, disabled and LGBTQ+ employees. Since taking the job in February, she’s been on a company-wide tour sparking candid conversations around bias, privilege and belonging. “We have weekly meetings with senior leadership to discuss what’s happening within our walls, and what’s happening in communities around us,” she says. “We confront issues like microaggression or hiring biases and examine them through different lenses.”
It hasn’t all been easy, but Massay isn’t the type to throw in the towel. “I think, how am I going to get through that wall? I can get around it or go over it, or even dig and go under, depending on the situation,” she says. “But the challenge just gets me more fired up because when you win, it's that much sweeter, because you went through XYZ and you came out on top.”
And that tenacity is paying off. “When someone tells me, ‘Hey, this happened and I remembered our conversation and went in a different direction,’ that’s major progress,” she says. “Folks are ingesting the training and it’s showing up in their behavior.”
Massay’s influence is making an impact on the broadcasts, too. She’s met with network producers, directors and on-air talent, and the result has been more diverse, in-depth stories and features. “Folks are tweeting compliments,” Massay says. “That shows us the audience is paying attention and they recognize the thought and extensive research that goes into our storytelling.”
Massay commands attention. She says she’s spent most of her time so far with CBS Sports listening, getting to know people and understanding their voices, but it’s obvious that when she speaks, people act. It was the same when she led Northwestern’s softball team to the Women's College World Series as a catcher. Never hesitant or second-guessing herself, she earned a reputation for stealing bases and was inducted into Northwestern’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009.
In less than a year, Massay has intensified the network’s focus and made inclusion and diversity the heart of not only the workplace, but of how CBS Sports does business. “I have an opportunity to report directly to the chairman of CBS Sports, which allows me to truly see all parts of our business,” she says. “Each part has a committee that works on diversity and inclusion, but I’m the only one who does it as a full-time job.”
She’s quick to point out her success is largely due to the team she works with. “As a leader, I think gratitude is a strength. Especially when you hit a wall. How boring would life be if it was all easy? I’m fortunate because we work together … so that next time, we avoid that challenge. I’m grateful for what we learn and the relationships we build.”
Prior to joining CBS, Massay was a commissioner of the New York State Athletic Commission. Before that, she worked as a consultant to ABC and ESPN, and, in 2015, helped launch the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (now RISE). She’s also an attorney. “This is a dream job because it’s the first time I’ve been able to literally package all of my passions and expertise and put them to work in one role,” she says.
Because Massay was born in Nigeria and grew up biracial, she has a strong personal connection to her work. “I’m married to a Black man and have two Black sons,” she says. “I know what it’s like to be overlooked and mistreated. I look at my sons and their friends and start calculating the odds. I see the challenges my husband faces. He’s one of just a few in the workplace. So am I, as a woman of color. It’s a reality for us every day.”
Massay likes to win. Luckily, her CBS Sports colleagues have bought into her strategies and are running with her plan to grow the D&I initiatives on a global scale.
“Our world is really so small because technology brings us together. It’s my hope that in five years, these little flames that I’ve helped start become fires that make D&I less of a strategy and more of a way of life at CBS,” Massay says. “We want to give everyone a voice and build a culture even more welcoming so that we’re bringing the best in the field through diversity of thought, diversity of skillset and diversity of talent.”
Madelyne Woods is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multichannel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.