The NHL has released its first-ever Diversity and Inclusion report, highlighting the active steps the league and its franchises are taking to affect positive social change in the sports world. The report notes that the overwhelming majority of NHL and team employees are white (83.6 percent) and/or straight (91.3 percent, with the second-highest survey response being "prefer not to answer."), but for NHL senior executive VP of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs Kim Davis, it's the looking forward that she hones in on.
"My biggest takeaway is that we have a lot of work to do - there's no question about that - and this is a good start," Davis said. "We are building a consistent framework and system across the league and 32 clubs that, when I joined almost five years ago, I was hopeful that would begin to happen. Because I know from previous changework I've done in other industries, that is how you really have long-term sustainable change."
The report includes seven "dimensions" to help drive change: leadership, education, employment, marketing, partnerships, participation and community engagement. I asked Davis was she believed to be the most underrated of those dimensions and she cited partnerships. According to the report, the NHL will now place a greater emphasis on working with companies and businesses owned by people who identify as women, BIPOC, LGTBQ+ and other diverse groups.
"Not just for what I would refer to as low-margin businesses like cleaning services or concessions, but those high-margin businesses like investment managers, law firms or accounting firms," she said. "Not only does that diversify your portfolio of relationships, but it also gives you entree into the communities these businesses represent and allows you to build credibility and trust in a new way."
That can impact hiring practices, youth participation in the sport and marketing. And everything is interconnected.
"It's easy to look at the employment dimension and say, 'OK, just go out and start hiring underrepresented groups,' " Davis said. "But the truth of the matter is that you can't recruit people who don't perceive your brand well."
The NHL's fan code of conduct can help the arena experience for those groups, as can youth participation programs such as Learn to Play. Having broadcasters from a wide variety of backgrounds also helps - not only with employment, but simply in bringing in new fans, too.
But perhaps one of the most intriguing parts of the report is the NHL's relationship with a group called White Men as Full Diversity Partners. It's an eye-catching name, to be sure, but also an important resource for a league that has literally been called an 'Old Boys Club' for years.
"The thesis behind their 25 years of business is that typically, white men don't see themselves as part of the diversity conversation," Davis said. "They typically feel like they're being lectured to, as opposed to being a partner in the work.
"They also believe white men need to hear and be trained by other white men who have experienced their same point of view around these issues through their own lived experience. Given the demographics of our sport, I felt they were the perfect partner."
With a number of women earning assistant GM jobs and other executive positions, not to mention San Jose's Mike Grier becoming the first Black GM in NHL history, the front offices of the league's franchises are diversifying much quicker than ever before. And they have done so without something akin to the NFL's 'Rooney Rule,' which has often come under fire for being more of a cover in hiring practices and less of an actually effective tool in helping qualified candidates land jobs. Davis sees the disconnect.
"Change is far more sustainable when people feel invested in it, as opposed to being told what to do," she said. "It doesn't appear to me that the Rooney Rule has worked that favorably. Real culture change requires organizations to look within themselves."
Davis believes that partnering with the NHL Coaches' Association has been successful on that front, providing mentorship, opportunity and exposure for the next generation of bench bosses. She cites NCAA Dartmouth's Nina Rodgers and Union's Olivia Soares as two women in that pipeline right now.
All in all, there is still a lot of work to be done, but the NHL and its franchises at least have a framework and some data to glean from now.