HOUSTON—Imagine being the highest-ranking woman in American professional sports, walking into an executive meeting and still being mistaken as the waitstaff. That was the reality for former Oakland Raiders’ CEO Amy Trask.
Like other female-pioneers, Trask endured gender-bias throughout her close to 30-year career in the National Football League (NFL). However, during her keynote address at Hart Energy’s recent Women in Energy luncheon, she shared how her experiences in a male-dominated industry allowed her to thrive regardless of gender.
In all, Trask spent more than 26 years with the Raiders organization, where she became the NFL’s first female front-office executive and primarily served as a close advisor for former team owner Al Davis.
Under the mentorship of Davis, known as a polarizing and uncanny figure in the sports world, Trask said she grasped that there’s no such thing as a “women’s place.” She said his indifference to gender was a lesson that became a key part of her philosophy and also the advice she gave to the more than 650 attendees at the luncheon.
“I never spent one moment thinking about my gender. If other people wanted to waste their time thinking about the fact that I was a woman [then] fine let them waste their time,” she said.
At the start of her NFL career, Trask entered her first deposition as a lawyer for the Raiders with Davis. The complainant’s lawyer suggested Trask fetch lunch for everyone in the room that she noted also held 15 to 20 men.
Before she had the opportunity to respond, Davis offered a retort. Instantly annoyed by the lawyer, Davis questioned why he would ask Amy to get lunch since she didn’t work for him while many other people in the room did.
Trask said that moment with Davis along with many others made her realize that she would only be regarded based on how hard she worked as an employee, not, as a woman.
“[Davis] did hire, fire, curse and swear, and treat everyone without regard to race, gender, ethnicity and religion; none of which had any bearing on whether anyone can do a job,” she said.
At her first NFL owners meeting as the Raiders’ CEO, Trask again found herself taking orders for beverage service.
A male NFL owner asked her to make him coffee. Instead of upbraiding him for his assumption of her position, Trask prepared his coffee just the way he liked it. A short time later, she took her seat at the table and began to lead the meeting.
The man went ashen with embarrassment, and the gotcha moment was what she takes pride in—not because of his reaction but in her choice to respond to him on her terms.
The owner, incidentally, went on to be a great ally of hers through her career in the NFL. Trask even joked that there wasn’t a meeting that went by that he didn’t ask her how she wanted her coffee.
At another meeting for NFL owners, Trask also recalled an exchange between an owner of another team, which prompted him to stand and say “listen girlie!” Never hearing someone use such a term outside of her grandmother, Trask said she met the owner’s outburst with laughter and moved on—a response that she said some might disagree with.
“We each get to handle these situations as we choose to handle them. Don’t let anyone tell you how you have to handle a moment like that, handle it in a way you feel will be effective,” she said.
In light of her experiences, the author of “You Negotiate Like A Girl; Reflections on a Career in the National Football League” advised young attendees to disregard any preconceived notions they have about the environment they are entering.
“Enter with an open mind,” she said. “And take it from there.”
She followed with her key rules for a successful business environment that necessitates gender-neutral thinking. First, she wants women to stop thinking about the fact that they are a woman. If a woman harbors on her gender, she doesn’t see how they can expect people around them to not do the same.
“If gender-neutral is what we want then shouldn’t we act in a gender-neutral manner,” she said.
Trask urged that neither young women nor men should enter a room assuming the worst. She finds it advantageous to not waste energy on worrying about the manner you will be treated based on gender, race or creed.
She went on to point out the importance of hard work. Trask told the crowd just when you think you worked your hardest to “find a way to work harder because hard work matters.”
Trask polished off her speech, with her four C’s to good business: communicate, cooperate, collaborate and coordinate.
“Because if you do those four things you are going to be in a pretty terrific spot to succeed,” she said.
Trask is currently an analyst for CBS Sport and CBS Sports Network. She appears regularly on “That Other Pregame Show,” serves as a panelist on the first-ever nationally televised all-female sports show “We Need to Talk,” and contributes to “The NFL Today” on CBS.
Mary Holcomb can be reached at email@example.com
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