The National Hockey League and its 32 teams released their inaugural Diversity & Inclusion Report, a comprehensive document that both details accelerated efforts by the League and its teams in recent years and includes a groundbreaking demographic study of the NHL workforce at both the League and Club levels.
The report is based on seven dimensions that the NHL is following to “build (diversity and inclusion) at every point where a player, fan, or employee might interact with the game, taking important steps to lay the foundation for progress,” according to its executive summary.
The dimensions encompass leadership, education, marketing, employment, partnerships, participation and community engagement.
“During the past few years, the NHL and its 32 Clubs have accelerated efforts to grow our sport, particularly with underrepresented audiences,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “The information in this report seeks to both detail the work we have done and establish metrics that will enable us to chart our progress. Transparency is essential so that we can hold ourselves accountable and for all stakeholders — including NHL Players, partners, fans and future fans — to understand the breadth and depth of our work to create a safer, more welcoming, more diverse game and business.”
Some of the highlights of the report:
– The NHL’s league office formed an internal Inclusion Steering Committee in 2019. Its creation mirrors work at the team level where 27 teams have established or are about to create organizational diversity and inclusion councils, working groups or advisory boards.
– Twenty-two teams have launched or are about to launch mentorship/fellowship/hiring programs to develop BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and female talent to work in hockey operations or front office roles.
“Intentionality is important,” said Kim Davis, NHL’s senior executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs. “The mentorship and development programs allow us to create a diverse pipeline and provide candidates within our ecosystem the exposure, the access, and the opportunity.”
– The NHL has seen some progress through recent hires. Mike Grier became the League’s first Black general manager when the San Jose Sharks hired him in July.
Grier joined seven other Black employees who hold key C-suite positions throughout the NHL, including Florida Panthers assistant general manager Brett Peterson; Tampa Bay Lightning chief operating officer Mark Pitts; Carolina Hurricanes general counsel Nigel Wheeler; Pittsburgh Penguins chief people officer and general counsel Tracey McCants Lewis; Arizona Coyotes executive vice president, ticketing and strategy Anthony Horton; Chicago Blackhawks general counsel Marcus LeBeouf; Philadelphia Flyers vice president of government and external affairs for Comcast Spectacor Joe Meade; Seattle Kraken senior vice president and general counsel for Climate Pledge Arena Hewan Teshome; and Kraken vice president, strategy and business intelligence Kendall Boyd-Tyson.
“Representation counts at all levels,” Davis said. “If we’re going to continue to grow the sport, we have to have people that are relatable to underrepresented audiences that we’re trying to attract at every level of the sport.”
– Six women have also been hired as assistant general managers since January: Emilie Castonguay and Cammi Granato (Vancouver Canucks), Meghan Hunter (Blackhawks), Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser (Toronto Maple Leafs), Kate Madigan (New Jersey Devils) and Alexandra Mandrycky (Kraken).
– The accelerated pace is an outgrowth of the NHL’s commitments to combat racism in society and hockey and to make the sport more inclusive and welcoming following a series of high-profile incidents, including the murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in the custody of police in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.
– In March, the NHL hired Jennifer Ekeleme as vice president for multicultural engagement and integration “to accelerate culturally relevant marketing efforts and strengthen crossovers into off-ice touchpoints like music, fashion and food.” Twenty-five teams have or will launch specific marketing campaigns aimed toward BIPOC, the LGBTQ+ community, women and/or people with disabilities, or have dedicated a specific portion of their marketing budgets toward future diversity and inclusion campaigns, the report said.
– In addition, 23 teams have or will enter new business partnerships/relationships with minority or woman-owned businesses, representing a growth of 14 teams (44 percent) since November 2020.
– To support League-wide youth hockey programs, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association’s Industry Growth Fund (IGF) has distributed more than $135 million in the United States and Canada and is taking steps to help retain and develop BIPOC and women hockey participants. Some of those funds were directed toward low-cost introductory programs like Learn to Play in the United States and First Shift in Canada. The IGF made a three-year commitment in 2022 to support Hockey Equality, an initiative founded by “Hockey Night in Canada” analyst and retired NHL player Anthony Stewart to diversify youth hockey and lower barriers to inclusion at the grassroots level.
Nearly 62 percent of the NHL and Club employees are men, almost 37 percent are women and 1.34 percent listed themselves as “other” or preferred not to respond to the survey.
“There are a lot of areas that we need to improve in, but you can’t improve until you know where your baseline is, and this is the beginning of the work that is in front of us,” Davis said. “The facts are here, and we can hold ourselves accountable and own the things that we need to do to continue to evolve our culture and to make our sport more welcoming and to grow our sport.”
The report said the NHL’s community engagement efforts are evolving to effect change within the sport and society.
“We are supporting and building new pathways for players to use their platforms to make positive social change. This includes elevating the voices and experiences of BIPOC players, as well as highlighting allyship from white players as a crucial component of advancing D&I,” the report said. “We are also using the League’s platform more intentionally to add momentum to key social movements.”
Those efforts include the NHL’s endorsement of the Freedom to Vote Act, which would protect free and fair elections in the United States and address barriers that disproportionately affect BIPOC and disabled voters; a roundtable with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promote environmental action, with special attention to environmental justice and climate change’s disparate impacts in BIPOC areas; and advocacy for the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Joe Biden to honor O’Ree’s trailblazing contributions to hockey and society as the NHL’s first Black player.
The report also stresses that there’s still more work to do. For example, the NHL and NHLPA are working toward revamping and relaunching the “Hockey is for Everyone” grassroots youth hockey network of 26 affiliated organizations that have served more than 130,000 children since 1998.
The NHL and NHLPA are looking to turn the network into a broader coalition of partners who “use the sport as a force for empowerment and inclusion, resulting in positive social change and healthy, vibrant communities,” the report said.
And the NHL’s Fan Inclusion Committee will work with the Sports Innovation Lab, co-founded by Hockey Hall of Famer Angela Ruggiero, to review and improve the in-arena experience and create a new “Fan Code of Conduct” to “unite NHL fans and arena employees in preventing, reporting, and addressing any inappropriate behavior and/or non-inclusive incidents.”
Davis said, “I think transparency is an important hallmark of change in action, and we’re being transparent in where we are. We have made meaningful progress. But there’s a lot more work to do. And there’s a lot of work underway.”