Women In Leadership Series: Shannon Miller

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Women In Leadership: Shannon Miller

Acrisure Arena’s Shannon Miller Champions Equality for Women on and off the Ice

Though women’s ice hockey has increased in popularity over the last decade with the number of participants rising by 400%, pay inequality, underrepresentation in the media, and gender bias (for example, men hold 96% of the hockey operations jobs in the NHL), women still have a way to go to catch up. That said, no one can deny the renewed momentum in trying to bring more women into the sport, and hopefully, from the increase in girls playing hockey, women will begin to fill hockey leadership roles in the future.

Meet former world-renowned Olympic head hockey coach Shannon Miller, vice president, branding and community relations at Acrisure Arena, Southern California’s most anticipated live entertainment and sports venue and future home of the Coachella Valley Firebirds. As the 3rd coach in NCAA history to reach 350 career wins, at Acrisure Arena, Miller is responsible for helping build and grow the Firebirds and arena brand.

Q: How did you get to where you are today?

SM: I was fortunate to have great parents, grandparents, neighbors, teachers, and coaches who all helped create a solid foundation for me to build on. I was taught virtues such as honesty, trust, compassion, and courage from a young age, and it has helped guide me. I was taught the value of a great attitude and work ethic, and that I could do anything a boy could do. Equality, love, and respect were part of my daily life, and that solid foundation has allowed me to build and grow from there.

Q: What’s one way you’ve broken the rules and challenged the norm in your career?  

SM: I’ve had two career paths – a police officer, and a hockey coach – both heavily dominated by men. Some of those men tried to treat me as “less than” and many times they tried to “put me in my place.” I challenged the norm by having the courage to refuse to be less than, standing firmly in my earned place, and working hard to become the best. The more I won, the more turbulent it became. It takes courage to win. Stand in the fire, don’t shrink back, and come out stronger than ever before.

Q: Can you share a situation in which you’ve been unfairly characterized in the workplace, due to unconscious bias? How should women address these micro-aggressions and slights when they occur?

SM: As a hockey coach, and leader in the international world of hockey, I have been unfairly characterized as aggressive, arrogant, and demanding. It’s simply the social bias that exists when a woman is assertive, self-confident and has high expectations for herself and others. While working hard to win, I have also worked hard to create an atmosphere of inspiration, trust, inclusiveness, and acceptance. Those that prefer to dominate and control are not good team players or leaders, typically don’t believe in equality, and use tactics like manipulation and force. People like that are threatened by people like me, and very jealous of others success. The best way to disarm these people is to stay true to your authentic self, continue to be a good role model, and continue to take the high road. Even when people attack you, they watch what you are doing and try to emulate you because they too want to win.

Q: What is one thing we can start doing today to help close the wage gap between men and women? 

SM: Women have been overly polite for a long time about inequality and the wage gap. It’s time we take our rightful place at the table, and to do that, we must continue to build relationships, be the best at what we do, and have the courage to speak up and fight for what we deserve. Shrinking back is not an option. Leaning in is.

Q: The past two years have proven to be challenging for our mental health. How have you prioritized your own mental health?

SM: Mental health is a challenge for all of us now, and I need to admit that I haven’t done the best I could to make this a priority for myself. I do wake up with an attitude of gratitude, I have meditated, read books on Buddhism, and done some outdoor exercise…..but I need to do so much more, and have committed to this for the month of July!

Q: What’s one effective way you’ve seen companies address the existing need for diversity-related initiatives? 

SM: Hiring diversity, and creating an environment of acceptance and trust, which includes equal treatment and equal pay.

Q: Tell us about one major setback you’ve had in your career – how did you handle it?

SM: A major setback in my career was when a sexist and homophobic athletic director came into the athletic department and fired or ran out six openly gay women at the same time. We banned together, I was the leader, and we fought back. We launched a Federal Title IX Lawsuit, and we won. Having the courage to do something like this is the first step. Next is staying true to your authentic self, and working hard at staying positive, strong, and to be a winner. Never apologize for winning!

Q: What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve ever received? 

SM: My father gave me the best advice when I was a young girl. His advice had a major impact on the rest of my life. My father died of colon cancer when I was 13 years old. His advice was simply, “girls can do anything boys can do!”