Shavannia Williams launched Heels and Helmets which uses sports analogies through its football training camps to help level the playing field for women in business. (Courtesy photo)
At one of the great temples of college football Shavannia Williams learned to play the game with the big boys.
Williams began her career in sports marketing as an undergrad at the University of Michigan across the hall from legendary coach Bo Schembechler when Tom Brady was fighting for time at quarterback. Though Schembechler had long since hung up his whistle and put down the clipboard by the time she got to Ann Arbor the Hall of Fame coach uttered a game changing salvo in passing that would resonate with her as she began her career.
“Don’t let the boys make you afraid,” Williams remembers.
With that in mind Williams launched Heels and Helmets, an organization that helps women succeed and advance in the corporate world by breaking down communications barriers through the prism of sports. The philosophy is to teach women how to speak and understand sports vernacular while using it to create gender equity in America’s workforce by helping them interact with male decisions makers and level the playing field for professional advancement.
Williams launched Heels and Helmets as a blog in January 2010 hoping to give women the competitive advantage in the workplace by helping them direct business conversations in the context of sports. The ability to comprehend sports analogies was something that she learned was intimidating to even most successful most women through conversations with friends who were lawyers and lobbyists on Capitol Hill.
“I want women to be true to themselves,” said Williams. “We’re not trying to change who they are. This is just another tool in the toolbox to help compete in business”.
Her friend Tiffany Moore was the inspiration that turned her concept into a company. Moore, who was on the board of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation at the time, asked her to explain what the football analogies meant after a corporate presentation she attended where they resonated with the larger audience. Williams, who was a corporate sales representative with the Washington Wizards at the time, realized that her sports acumen and those in her inner circle gave them an advantage in relaxed corporate settings that could help lead them to greater professional success dealing with men.
“That’s when the light bulb went off for me,” said Williams. “The ability to communicate on a level that men can relate to helps break down barriers in the workplace. Often it’s not about discrimination that hinders advancement it’s really about getting more women into the loop”.
The Heels and Helmets mission brings women into that loop through professional development opportunities during sports themed workshops, events, and philanthropy. Football and golf are the premise for the Football For Business Ladies Training Camp and the Afternoon Golf Tee. Since the NFL is the most popular sport in the United States and golf is corporate America’s most popular recreational pastime Williams not only gives women the acumen to compete and communicate about those sports she prepares helps bridge the gap with men .
“Relationships are key in business,” said Samira Cook, Vice President for Business Development at the National Reinvestment Coalition. “The football training camp and golf clinic] provided our clients at the D.C. Women’s Business Center with tools to interact with their male counterparts.”
Though 50 percent of America’s workforce is women less than 15 percent are in management. Williams hopes Heels and Helmets will close the gap by giving them confidence to communicate effectively.
“It’s a matter of breaking down language and cultural barriers that impede team building,” said Williams. “Learning how to talk football and golf in particular teaches women how to chop it up with the big boys”.