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WNBA owner among women athletes running businesses

SEATTLE (AP) — Ginny Gilder wasn’t well versed on what Title IX meant until she was a freshman at Yale, competing for the rowing team and taking part in one of the most famous protests surrounding the law.

The co-owner of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm was right in the middle of the “Yale Strip-In” in 1976 to protest inequities in the treatment of men and women rowers at the school.

“What happened for me personally, I always say … the experience radicalized me,” Gilder said. “Because I grew up in New York City, Upper East Side. I was a Park Avenue, private school girl. I mean, you want to talk privilege, that would be me. So it was the first time I ever experienced discrimination.”

As Title IX marks its 50th anniversary this year, Gilder is one of countless women who benefited from the enactment and execution of the law and translated those opportunities into becoming leaders in their professional careers.

Participating in that demonstration ignited a drive in Gilder. It helped propel her to become an Olympic silver medalist in rowing at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. It helped her build a successful business career as an investor and philanthropist. It also helped Gilder accept her sexuality in the late 1990s.

She is now part of the ownership group that purchased the Storm in 2008 and kept the franchise stable in its hometown.

“I think a lot of what I learned in the business world is you got to go for what you want, and not what you want, like in a personal way, but in terms of what your vision is for the world and for the change you want to make,” Gilder said. “And certainly that was an experience that I learned from becoming an athlete.

“But it really was an experience I learned from that protest,” Gilder added. “That you got to push if you’re not happy, you’re not satisfied with how things are. You got to get out there and roll up your sleeves.”

Gail Koziara Boudreaux also has used her competitive drive to succeed off the basketball court.

The career scoring and rebounding leader at Dartmouth has been president and CEO of Anthem, Inc. since 2017.

Boudreaux, a three-time Ivy League Player of the Year and a four-time Ivy League shot put champ, said historically there has not been a lot of female CEOs — and of those who have, she said quite a few have been former athletes.

“If you look at many of us, we do have sports backgrounds at various levels,” Boudreaux said. “And I think it feeds into the competitiveness and our fearlessness about taking challenges on and not being afraid to step in, you know, step in and play the game.”

Thanks to Title IX providing more women with opportunities as a result of the growth in participation at every level — from youth sports to college, Boudreaux believes the number of female CEOs will inevitably increase and level the corporate playing field. It’s one reason Boudreaux endowed a coaching position at her alma mater along with her company investing.

“I think it’s important for us to give back to things that helped us pay it forward and also to be an important, socially responsible company in the community,” Boudreaux said.

Jacqie McWilliams knows firsthand what doors can be opened when someone is given an opportunity.

She is the first Black female commissioner of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. McWilliams also has been on the NCAA Gender Equity Task Force since 2016. Previously, she spent nine years managing NCAA championships.

McWilliams was a conference player of the year in both basketball and volleyball at Hampton. She sees a responsibility to give back to the pipeline that gave her so much.

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