Shelly Wilkes was eight months pregnant with her first child when presented with the opportunity to preside over the Orlando Magic’s Lakeland-based G League affiliate.
She was nervous and apprehensive at the idea of taking on the role, but concluded if the organization trusted her enough to run the league as a new mother, she could handle the task.
She’s the first female president of a team in the G League, the NBA’s development league for players — and in Wilkes' case — front office executives.
Wilkes' prominence and her rise through the Magic organization encouraged the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce to select her as this year’s keynote speaker for the Women in Sports luncheon Friday morning at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Holly Clifford Corral, president and CEO of Press PR + Marketing; Melanie Lenz, chief development officer of the Tampa Bay Rays; and Tracy West, PGA Valspar Championship tournament director, accompanied Wilkes on the panel that spoke to more than 160 people on their success in the sports industry.
“I was very impressed with the number of people,” Wilkes said. “I didn’t really know what to expect walking in, but I loved the amount of women leaders we had in the room today.”
Wilkes initially resisted accepting the role of keynote speaker for the event. It’s one thing when you’re talking about your job or company, it’s another thing when you have to talk about you, she said.
“But if you have the experience and you have a story to tell and somebody asks you to tell the story, then I feel compelled to do that,” Wilkes said. “I hope that somebody took one thing away.”
During her presentation, Wilkes highlighted key issues many women face in the sports industry: finding a balance between home and work; lending a hand to others in the industry and being a minority in a room full of men.
“This is very much what we feel like every day,” Wilkes chucked out with a smile as she looked toward a table to her right, where three men were sitting.
One of the men at the table was former sportscaster Dave Reynolds, 55.
Reynolds, now the director of business development for Vistra Communications, said as an African-American, he particularly related to Wilkes' gesture.
“She said that, and it hit home,” he said.
Other people appreciated the fact that Wilkes addressed the issues of using your voice when you’re offered a seat at the table.
Wilkes told the crowd that people want to hear whatever you have to offer.
Megan Conison, a 23-year-old St. Petersburg resident, just started a new job at a local advertising firm in Ybor City that works with a lot of sports teams across the country.
“Many times, women are shunned for speaking up in areas,” Conison said, “and for her to sit there and say to take a seat and use your voice, that was extremely insightful.”
Conison is the only female in her office, which is why she felt like this event would be a good opportunity for her to network with other women in the “male-dominated industry,” especially since she only moved to the area nine months ago from Columbus, Ohio.
“The world of sports is ever changing,” she said. “If we can keep staying together as women and push for success, then Tampa’s going to be one of the best cities.”
Contact Mari Faiello at [email protected]. Follow @faiello_mari.