We talked with a half-dozen or so female Equipment Managers to take a snapshot of their lives in their chosen profession. We focused on their stories, their celebrations, their challenges.
Women are still a marked minority in the Equipment Manager world. Strides and progress have been made, yet some aspects of the profession, such as working D1 football and holding high office in the AEMA, are still on the horizon for many women.
In Part I, Helmet Tracker introduced you to
- Mackenzie Rivers, Assistant Director of Equipment Services at the University of Connecticut.
- Robin Wert-Eller, Coordinator of Equipment Operations at Franklin & Marshall College.
- Kathy Saltis, Equipment Room Manager at Westfield State.
- Sherry Ankeny, Equipment Manager at Skidmore College.
- Kayla Modahl, Assistant Equipment Manager at Eastern Carolina University.
We asked them how they got started, what challenges they faced, what stories they could tell, why they remain in the business, and more.
Dealing With Male Athletes
“Being female in this profession never really crossed my mind early on,” Mackenzie said. “At Navy, those guys in football were never in a rush to get out of the locker room and when we needed something I had to wait—I couldn’t just go in there.
“But the longer I do this, I have ways now of moving things along. The boys here are usually pretty good about things.”
Nearly every female Equipment Manager said something along these lines: “I am not your mother. I will not treat you like that and you will not treat me like that,” as Mackenzie said.
Admittedly, we’ve heard male Equipment Managers say the same thing to their athletics – “I am not your mother.”
Mackenzie admitted there have been young athletes with some attitude problems around her and her female co-workers.
“Look, I’ve had that at times,” she said. “But I don’t think that was because I was a woman—it’s because that kid was a jerk.”
“These are kids. These are 18, 19, 20-year-old who think they are being funny and they are not.”
Female Equipment Managers Questioned
Mackenzie said she sees female student Equipment Managers pressed and challenged, but it is not much different than how male student Equipment Mangers are similarly made to prove themselves.
“We have definitely had some pain the ass kids, that’s going to happen,” she said. “But we also don’t have any problem going to the coaching staff and telling them a certain kid needs some talking to.”
For Kayla, it’s the female athletes mostly who question her about her job choice.
“This is my first year working totally with female athletes and that’s great, but it’s definitely different,” she said of her work at Eastern North Carolina. “I feel like the girls are a little more surprised that I am an Equipment Manager than the guys.”
She said football players especially are used to having student Equipment Managers who are female.
“With the women’s teams, I get asked why. ‘Why would you want to do this?'” she said. “Some girls don’t see the appeal of being at all the sporting events and not being there to be cute and dressed up.”
“I have a good relationship with most of my athletes – it’s not an issue.”
AEMA for female Equipment Managers
All are associated with the Athletic Equipment Managers Association. The AEMA counts nearly 1,200 members, draws about 500 to its annual Convention, and certifies Equipment Managers through an initial exam and continuing education.
Many colleges and universities now require their Equipment Managers to be certified or to gain certification within a year of taking the job. AEMA Certification means something and its importance is growing.
We asked our panel about their experience in the AEMA.
Mostly Men Here
Kathy first confronted the lack of women Equipment Managers at an AEMA convention.
“When I went to my first convention as an Equipment Manager, that’s when it hit you in the face – there are mostly men here.”
“When I took the certification exam – as I recall – they wanted input on whether it was a fair exam for women to take and I had to ask, ‘Why wouldn’t it be? We do the same job and yes I do deal with football.’”
Much has changed and progress has been made, Kathy said, but not enough.
“Since that time, in my opinion, it has not evolved enough. This is still a male dominated field.”
Robin is the Continuing Education Committee Chair of the AEMA, an important and influential position. Still, she believes there is somewhat of a barrier to the higher positions.
“In the AEMA, yes, there is opportunity for women. Yet, there is a bit of a glass ceiling—I think that is probably true, too,” she told Helmet Tracker.
Clifton Perry, the AEMA President, treads lightly on the issue.
“I wish I had a female Equipment Manager,” he said. “I have almost 500 student female athletes and I don’t have a female Equipment Manager.”
Across the organization, however, Clifton says the number of female Equipment Managers is growing.
“I think there needs to be more women in this profession and I encourage more women to get activity involved in the AEMA,” he said.
The barriers are there, he admitted. “Some women feel like they are behind the 8-ball at times and have to work twice as hard.”
Clifton admitted there were no specific programs or efforts to recruit women into the profession or the organization, yet said progress is needed.
“We should be evolving quicker in this,” he said.
Sam Trusner, the AEMA Office Manager, says membership lists do not specify gender so any survey of membership to see if the female enlistment has grown would be guessing.
Still, he says it is clear the number of female Equipment Managers is growing.
“Many more are getting involved and the more experienced are being hired as head positions and in administrative roles,” Sam wrote us.
Gender Pay Gap for female Equipment Managers
Last year’s AEMA Salary Survey found a gender pay gap for Equipment Managers, but not nearly the size of the national gender pay gap.
Women Equipment Managers averaged nearly 9 percent less pay than men, according to the survey. The national pay gap seems to be somewhere around 20 percent, so female Equipment Managers are doing significantly better than some of their counterparts in other industries. Clearly, however, there is work to be done.
The gender pay gap for Equipment Managers may be affected to some degree to the longer tenure of older men in the industry. Those with more experience are simply paid better.
“Overall, in our association, Equipment Managers are predominately white and male, so those numbers are skewed,” said Matt Althoff, AEMA Associate Executive Director who administered the survey. Matt is Director of Equipment at the University of Virginia and talked with us last summer about the survey.
The 11-question survey found the national average salary for Equipment Managers of $52,575, a nearly 20 percent increase over the average from five years previous.
Kathy said there have, for many years, been female Equipment Managers in important positions at the AEMA. She cites Robin as Chair of the Continuing Education Committee and Kelly Jones, the Chair of the Certification Steering Committee.
“There has always been strong leaders there, but it’s never been embraced in the quite the same way as some of the male roles have been embraced” she said.
What would that look like?
“I think what it would look like would be years where there might be a female President or female Executive Director—so that it is not always going to be a man.
“It would look like the Glenn Sharp award going to a female in the profession—more than twice in 40 years.”
Kathy told us that women have begun to gather at the AEMA conventions with purpose.
“It started with a time slot at the national convention to organize a meet and greet and to share a little bit about where women are at in different organizations,” she said. “The goal was to be a mentoring program for younger female Equipment Managers.
“I don’t know if it has developed into that specifically – but more of a network.”
We asked if it would be accurate to call the gather a caucus—a group seeking political-type influence in the AEMA.
“We are not motivated to create power in the organization, but there can be unique issues that female Equipment Managers deal with because they are, in some circumstances, women dealing with male athletes, male dominated spots, and male coaches.”
She, and others, said the goal of the coalition is networking.
“We want to network with others to find out the most effective way to do things.”
We asked what these Equipment Managers would tell a young woman getting started as a Student Equipment Manager or someone who wants to make it a career.
Kathy at Westfield State, said she would not discount starting small.
“I think that tone of the things I would suggest they do is to check out their local equipment room, to see what the coaches would say they need in the way of support,” she said. “It may be easy to look at a D1 program and say ‘I really want to be involved,’ but sometimes the best place to jump in is a place where you deal with more than football.”
Robin at Franklin and Marshall, said staying current is important.
“I would advise her to do research, keep up her education, and be up to date with some of the trends in what is going on,” she said.
Keep At It
Tenacity is at a premium.
“Just keep at it, and stick up for yourself. There have been times that coaches didn’t speak well to me and vendors who didn’t take me seriously. You have to carry yourself with professionalism and if someone treats you condescendingly, take it up with their boss or yours.
As for Kayla, she said she hasn’t meet many female equipment managers, but hopes to help other young women succeed in the profession.
“I hope to become a role model for others.”