Cynt Marshall knows the difference between diversity and inclusion. “Diversity is being invited to the party,” she says. “Inclusion is being asked to dance. True inclusion is when people are invited in on the conversation and they’re invited in on the strategy.”
Too often the effort of bringing more women into sports leadership positions results in adding one or two women. Which falls sort of the kind of inclusion that prompts culture-changing progress. And that is the progress that is needed with most pro franchises, league offices and international sports federations.
I believe as a leader, there are three things that I really need to do. Listen to our people, learn from our people, and love our people. It’s important for me to truly, truly love them as people, not just as employees
The Backstory: From the First Black Cheerleader at Berkeley to Mavs’ CEO
Cynt Marshall was living in Dallas and enjoying retirement after a 36-year career when Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban contacted her to help turn around the organization plagued by sexual harassment and domestic violence allegations – making her the first black, female CEO in the NBA.
Marshall began with one-on-ones with the Mavs’ staff. She wanted to learn about their lives, from childhood to adulthood, not just about their career aspirations. “For me, it’s all about three L’s,” Marshall said. “I’ve tried to practice this in every job that I’ve had, including the Mavs. I believe as a leader, there are three things that I really need to do. Listen to our people, learn from our people, and love our people. It’s important for me to truly, truly love them as people, not just as employees.”
And she focused on hiring a diverse executive team. There were no women or people of color on the Mavericks’ leadership team when Marshall started. Today, 50% are women and 47% are people of color.
Cynt’s Advice to Young Girls and Women
Q: How can we make sure young girls know that leadership is a realistic path for them?
Cynt: “You can’t be it if you can’t see it. We need to expose our young girls and women to roles of leadership positions and expose them to industries that are male dominated. Help them know they can be a part of that. Give them mentors who will put them in these places.”
Q: What does it take for a woman to dominate in a traditionally male environment like basketball?
Cynt: “Confidence. We have to teach it to our girls early. It takes a true love for people that you are working for. You have to have a passion for the work. And you have to know that you belong. Walk in with authority.”
Q: What is your advice for women of color navigating the sports industry?
Cynt: “Really learn the industry. Every day, try to learn something new about the industry, about the project you are working on. Dig in and do not be afraid of it. Know that you are supposed to be there. Get your personal board of directors: your sponsor, your mentor, your pusher, and your lifter. People who are going to push you to be as good as anyone in the room and lift you up when your spirits get down. Someone who is going to help you train for what you have to do and that career you want to have and where you want to go. And then someone who is like an agent – who is going to put you in the game.”
The Mavs’ City Edition Uniforms Reflect the Street Art Culture of Dallas
Marshall amplified the Mavs’ commitment to leadership and diversity within the organization and the community when she commissioned Dallas muralist Tex Moton to design the Mavs’ 2019 City Edition uniforms, illustrated with his graffiti-inspired style of art.
“To me, it [the art] just embodies a culture, the way we present ourselves, that big southern attitude,” Moton shared. “The unity, diversity…I think that just spreads to the entire community. It’s something that resonates throughout the Dallas Metroplex and you can just feel it from the people and the energy in the city.”
Through the Mavs’ association with Dallas Love Field Airport, Tex expanded the style and message of the art, splashing it across the beams and walls in the airport’s Parking Garage C and sprinkling it throughout the terminal.
Heather Dickie is a marketing executive in Dallas, TX. Her agency, Dickie+Associates (D+A), produced the “Lead With Love” show with Cynt Marshall and Tex Moton to provide a platform for their positive message of leadership, diversity in the community and the Dallas spirit and showcase the Dallas Mavericks’ City Edition graffiti art at Dallas Love Field Airport. Listen to Lead With Love.