“I was different and that was my superpower.”
That’s the way Charece Williams Gee, a former NCAA Division-I volleyball player turned Head of NBA and Hoops for PepsiCo PEP, explains how she has used her uniqueness to her advantage as she has climbed the ranks within the sports industry. Her superpowers, her unique story, are superior indeed.
The daughter of Super Bowl XVII Champion, the late Clarence Williams, Gee (herself a stellar athlete) was the team captain and MVP of North Carolina State University’s Volleyball team, with many marks in the team’s record books. A graduate of NC State with a degree in Business Management, Gee also holds an M.B.A and Master of Sports Business Management from the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida.
That background, combined with her hard work, faith and support system landed her opportunities at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, Wasserman and the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) prior to PepsiCo.
While her superpowers have served her well, she also believes that harnessing the superpowers—the unique perspectives—of other women is the key to growth in sports and growth for women in the industry.
But she didn’t just pull this belief from the sky. Gee, who has been using her superpowers for about 20 years, has had the opportunity to see the impact that women are having in sports in real-time.
She is currently responsible for managing and cultivating relationships that cover 11 athletes, including stars such as Joel Embiid, Zion Williamson, and A’Ja Wilson, 12 NBA and WNBA teams, grassroots and professional league partnerships. In this role she works with the women who are behind the brands of some of the largest athletes in the world.
“Most of my players are managed by women. This gives me an up close and personal view of how women are influencing the industry. I work with these sharp, strong women who manage athletes’ brands.
These women are bringing their unique perspectives to change how their athletes’ brands are portrayed and the way we receive sports in general. They really push us to make sure that the strategies we develop are mutually beneficial to the brands of PepsiCo and their athletes.”
Coinciding with the presence of women crafting brands in sports, is the presence of women as agents and executives. While the numbers (less than one percent in the NBA and NFL) of active agents still remain dismally small, agents like Danielle Cantor (NBA), Kim Miale (NFL) and Nicole Lynn (NFL) are now representing athletes’ interests and influencing sports from the boardroom in very public ways. Each of the agents listed above, for instance, has represented a first-round draft pick. Similarly, women (like Gee) are in executive roles for teams and leagues.
Currently, women hold Vice President positions across all major sports leagues in the United States. While there is significant room for improvement on the numbers, the women in those roles are making their presence known.
Their presence is being felt, for instance, in the way that brands have begun to showcase women’s superpowers and take women into account. Gee herself has been a part of that shift for women in sports. When she arrived at the NBRPA (prior to beginning at PepsiCo), Gee saw a major gap in the NBRPA’s reach. Prior to her arrival, the NBRPA represented the interests of former players from the NBA, ABA and Harlem Globetrotters. Gee spearheaded bringing the women—the WNBA—into the fold.
“It wasn’t that women were intentionally left out, it’s just that the NBRPA existed prior to the W and no one had thought, ‘oh, we need to bring in the women.’ I was able to help ensure that the WNBA retired players had a seat at the table.”
It’s not an uncommon occurrence where women are unintentionally left out. Men conduct business with men in mind. It frequently takes empowered women speaking up, putting their unique perspectives to the table to bring other women to the attention of men. Gee understands that which is part of the reason she’s so supportive of bringing more women into sports.
“I see the influence of women all throughout the industry and I’m really glad to see that we have these seats at the table and that we are bringing other women forward to bring our unique perspectives and change the game. When at the table, you have to speak up.”
Gee continues to promote the unique voice and perspective of women at PepsiCo by supporting initiatives like Mountain Dew’s Women Who Do—a platform that (for the first time) showcases PepsiCo’s female athletes beyond their gametime performances. While halted by COVID-19, Women Who Do has featured Mariah Duran, Jules Marino, and A’ja Wilson, introducing audiences to the women as leaders in their communities.
“In about a year and a half we have gone from signing A’ja Wilson, Mountain Dew’s first WNBA player, to creating a cohesive platform of three athletes that gives them a strong voice. That’s growth. It shows that we have something that we can build on. We planted the seeds by focusing on the unique stories and perspectives of women in our industry. With the right people and resources we can create something successful.”
While Gee and PepsiCo are showing their commitment to progressing women in the industry, there is still work to be done among leagues, brands and the media before women in the industry have the platform they deserve. Building that due platform, in Gee’s mind, takes vision and leadership.
“We need brands with a larger vision than just investing in what will produce immediate returns. We know the statistics that show that women who participate in sports are more likely to become leaders. So it’s going to take companies who are willing to forgo the immediate, lucrative ROI to invest in women in sports. That type of vision will create a more diverse, powerful society with women in roles of leadership.
It will also take leadership that is willing to directly fund women—to put up the capital. AT&T with its sponsorship of the WNBA’s jerseys and us [PepsiCo] with becoming the first-ever sponsor of the 3-point competition at the WNBA All-Star; are examples of brands that are providing financial support of women in sports. We just need more of that in a sustained fashion.”
Gee seems to be on to something. At least one study has shown that women are equally if not more capable of successfully leading organizations. The study by Harvard Business Review showed that women out-performed men in all but 3 measurements of leadership skills. So investing in the superpowers of women is good for business, even if the investment (right now) seems to be a long-term one.
“Seeing women ascend to sports positions of leadership like Elizabeth Lindsay at Wasserman and, Pamela El (former Chief Marketing Officer of the NBA) was really eye opening for me as I transitioned to PepsiCo. It really drove home for me the possibilities for other women and me to have an impact in sports.
And more recently we’ve seen the likes of Lisa Joseph- Metelus of CAA who was recently named to their Board of Directors, and Cynt Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks shake up the industry. These women, majority of them black, have harnessed their superpowers and took their respective organizations to heights they’ve never seen before.
I was thrilled to have transformed the Mtn Dew 3 point competition during 2020 NBA All-Star, the first change in 30 years. Being a change agent and visionary is an awesome responsibility and opportunity. I have no doubt that if given the opportunity, there are countless other women who can do the same.”