Woman of colour in National Hockey League leadership position
January 28, 2019
The stellar corporate social responsibility (CSR) advice Kimberly Davis provided to the National Hockey League (NHL) over a six-month period as a consultant convinced commissioner Gary Bettman there was a need for someone to do the job full-time.
Asked to help identify a candidate, the league quickly figured out she was the ideal person for the role.
Just over a year ago, Davis was named executive vice-president with responsibility for social impact, growth initiatives & legislative affairs.
“What is exciting about being with the league at this time is that there is a clearer understanding by owners that the intersection of doing well and doing good help to grow your business,” she said while in Toronto recently for an event to celebrate women in hockey. “Social impact is about being able to attract new audiences, using your civic engagement to help grow your fan base, sponsorship & partners and helping engage your relationships with external constituents like governments. So I look at all this work that I do through a business lens and, ultimately, it is about how you grow our sport.”
In a league still viewed as exclusionary, Davis is committed to making the sport more attractive to minority players and fans.
“Hockey is tribal,” she pointed out. “As with any tribe, you feel cozy and wanted when you are part of it. When you are on the outside of that, often you are sort of peering in trying to figure how to become part of that group. The onus is on the tribe members to take the leadership in making those outside of the tribe feel welcomed. That’s often the way I explain it to my colleagues within the league. We have to take the initiative to make audiences that haven’t traditionally been part of the hockey tribe feel welcomed.”
Davis brings a wealth of experience to the position having spent three decades in the financial services industry management arena.
She made the transition from Teneo Holding where, as a senior managing director for nearly six years up until December 2017, she built and ran the first CSR and inclusive leadership practice and was the founder and platform creator of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative that focuses on moving the needle on issues impacting women and minorities globally while recognizing the integral role men play in orchestrating this change.
As managing director of global philanthropy and CSR, president of the JP Morgan Chase Foundation and member of the firm’s executive committee, Davis oversaw the organization’s nearly $300 million in annual giving, employee volunteerism, civic engagement, community relations and strategic corporate marketing programs. She held that role for seven-and-a-half years.
Prior to that, she held various senior roles with JP Morgan Chase for two decades. She built the first women of colour affinity group at Chase Manhattan Bank, developed a mentoring program for senior women that became an industry model in investment banking and established the initial corporate sponsorship model for Women Moving Millions that’s a global philanthropic community committed to large scale investment in females.
Davis has spent a large chunk of her time in the past few months interacting with hockey families of colour and listening to their concerns.
“Besides expressing their excitement to see a woman of colour in the sport they love so much, they also feel like they have someone they can share some of the challenges that their kids are having in a sport that still has problems as it relates to being welcoming to diverse communities,” she noted. “This has allowed me to understand the challenges those kids are facing around North America and it’s my responsibility to work with both the NHL and the governing bodies like USA Hockey and Hockey Canada to make the sport more welcoming.”
Black and other minority players still face racial taunts and female players are stereotyped and subjected to sexism.
“That should not be and will not be tolerated,” Davis, who completed the ARC International Advanced Leadership program and the Aspen Institute executive program, strongly said. “While it is very clear that all of the governing bodies and the NHL have zero tolerance policies, we all agree the time has come for us to show bolder leadership as we talk about zero tolerance for this kind of behavior.”
Davis played tennis while growing up in Chicago and her son dabbled in hockey before settling on track & field.
“I am a sports lover, so it was very easy for me to engage with hockey when I joined the NHL,” she said.
The Spelman College graduate, who helped develop, design and implement a national leadership centre in collaboration with her alma mater, comes from a trailblazing family.
Her mother was the first African-American woman to earn a master’s in business administration from the University of Chicago while her paternal grandmother – Dr. Rose Butler Browne -- was the first Black woman to graduate from Harvard University in 1929 with a doctorate in education.
“Just think about the challenges my grandmother faced in a program where she was one of two women and the only woman of colour,” said Davis who co-founded a leadership & consulting company – Springboard-Partners in Cross-Cultural leadership – that committed to building highly diverse teams.
“I believe it impacted who she was and how she showed up as a professional and choosing child psychology for her field of study. She was always concerned about how children felt about their environment. She also had a real impact on me as did my maternal grandmother and mother. I grew up among strong women and I have a daughter who is very strong.”
Butler Browne received widespread publicity for refusing to send students for teaching jobs in West Virginia because the state’s board of education was paying Black teachers less than their White counterparts. The publicity and subsequent teacher shortage resulted in a policy change.
Named to the Business Journal’s 100 Most Influential Women and Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business, Davis was profiled in 2012 with First Lady Michelle Obama in Essence’s magazine ’28 Most Influential Black Women in America’.