One of the things I’ve never talked about on this blog is how much my football knowledge has helped me in my career. Now, I won’t bore you with the details of how I spend my 9-5 (well, usually longer) each weekday because I like you too much, but I will say I’ve got a position in the corporate world and the ability to talk football has helped me more than I would have imagined.
The nature of my job is that I work with a lot of different people on various teams, both men and women. Early in my career, I managed to end up on teams with a lot of guys. (So. Much. Testosterone.) Additionally, a lot of my client contacts have been men, and seeing how most of them live in the Boston area, it’s not a matter of if they will talk about sports, it’s a matter of when. The ability to discuss current events in sports allowed me to be included in conversations that I otherwise would have been left out of had I not invested some of my time on ESPN.com. Sure, I may not know a ton about other sports, but being able to trade fantasy football tactics has helped me establish myself in some male-dominated environments.
So where am I going with this?
I wrote about my sports/career story because the sensational woman who I am profiling today totally gets the importance of this connection. In fact, she spends a significant amount of her time devoted to it.
I couldn’t be more excited to include Shavannia Williams, founder of Heels & Helmets, as part of our ongoing Women and the NFL series.
Before I start telling you all the things that make Shavannia a rock star, I have to admit that I’ve been sitting on this post for quite some time. She graciously took time out of her day back in January to talk about her career path and her business and I am so appreciative of the time she’s given me to complete this post.
Besides being incredibly patient, Shavannia is many other things – she’s an entrepreneur, a marketing expert, a writer, and a sports fanatic, just to name a few. In short, she’s a boss.
I came across Shavannia and her Heels & Helmets site one day when I was researching women that had been included in an NFL Women’s Apparel ad a few years ago. This was an experience she was chosen for not because she was worked for the Detroit Lions, but because of her blog. So how did Shavannia become a sports blogger? It actually all began with a request from another female professional.
“A friend and professional woman in DC asked me to explain some football analogies. She had been in meetings and didn’t get the analogies men were using. She had witnessed women who understood football easily engage with men in meetings and get their point across,” said Shavannia.
After explaining some basic concepts, the friend asked Shavannia to write an article about the subject for a website that was a portal for professional women. The article turned into four posts and the friend encouraged Shavannia to start a blog. The timing wasn’t great for Shavannia, as she had just launched her own marketing firm, but six months later she found herself starting the blog.
Heels & Helmets may have started with the idea of explaining football concepts, but it has grown substantially since then. The site also includes posts on professional baseball, basketball, hockey, and golf. The diversity of the site is really quite reflective of Shavannia’s background.
Shavannia received her B.A. in Sport Management and Communication from the University of Michigan. During her time in Ann Arbor, she worked for the Michigan football team and completed various internships, including time in Atlanta as part of the 1996 Olympics. After college, she honed her skills in marketing/communications positions, with some time on the Hill working for Senator Clinton. Then the Washington sports world came calling, as Shavannia went to work for the Wizards, and then for the Washington Sports and Entertainment group, which gave her the opportunity to work with the Capitals, Mystics and the arena owned by the group. From there, Shavannia became Director of Marketing for the Detroit Lions and Ford Field and worked in public relations for the NCAA 2009 Men’s Final Four.
So yes, it only makes sense that Heels & Helmets expanded beyond the gridiron.
These days, Shavannia runs SW Group, a marketing firm she started focused on using media, events, technology, and sports to help organizations grow. It’s a natural fit with the work she does with Heels & Helmets, which now hosts events, including corporate workshops where Shavannia educates women on the fundamentals of sports.
“I’m proud that I could take an idea like a blog and grow it into an organization that has partnered with Fortune 50 organizations, [but] it’s really the feedback I get from people that I consider my biggest success. I’m very pleased when a woman contacts me and says I used this during the interview process as a way to break the ice or talking about sports gave me a way to follow-up with client,” said Shavannia.
From chatting with Shavannia, it became quite clear that the intersection between sports and professional development is where Shavannia thrives. She told me a story about a workshop she did for Kilpatrick Townsend law firm. After the workshop, Scottie Graham, who played in the NFL for six years and served as the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) Director of Engagement, came up to her and said, “Shavannia, I’ve been around football all of my life, and I never would have explained blitz the way that you did. […] You can help our players explain their work and transition into corporate America.”
Although word of mouth has been a main source of growth for Heels & Helmets, support from men like Graham has played a role as well.
“Men in my network really saw the power in this. There were men in leadership positions saying that I have encouraged ladies to do this, but your approach makes a difference,” said Shavannia.
Educating men has also been part of Shavannia’s initiatives.
“I have conversations with men to help them understand how to better explain their strategies to their teams, assuming that not everyone clearly understands sports terminology. They need to recognize that not everyone is going to understand ‘blind side’ or ‘left side’ and that it’s important,” said Shavannia.
So what’s next for Heels & Helmets? In short, Shavannia’s goal is for it to become the premiere organization in professional development and coaching using sports. She’s also developing initiatives to start working with younger girls in order to help them develop business skills and some of the soft skills that are learned from sports.
If Shavannia’s story inspires you, you should definitely check out the #GirlPowerPlay Twitter networking sessions she hosts on Wednesdays.
Photos in this post courtesy Shavannia Williams and Heels & Helmets.