Playing like a girl doesn’t soften you; it makes you a winner.
After combining her awareness of sport and its positive correlation with education, she became the founder and behavioral scientist of Play Like A Girl dr Kimberly Clays Efforts have resulted in a partnership with the National Football League, advancing its mission to support the next generation of Black women in STEM.
dr Clay shared her journey to closing the gender gap in education in an interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE.
Tell me a little about your background in STEM.
[I] started [my] Public service career as a program analyst in chronic disease prevention and health promotion with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I later earned a Ph.D. in Public Health, which established me as a respected behavioral scientist and published author funded by the National Cancer Institute for my pioneering work in cancer survival research. Before taking on the full-time CEO role at Play Like a Girl in 2010, I was a tenure-track professor at the University of Georgia and the Morehouse School of Medicine.
As a black woman in STEM, how have you worked to close the gender gap in education?
Despite being the most educated demographic in America, black women remain woefully underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Over the course of my 20+ year career, I have worked to create more equal opportunities for girls and people of color. This included conscious efforts to be a visible role model in settings where black women are underrepresented, such as B. in higher education.
As a tenure-track assistant professor, I trained and educated the next generation of black women in STEM at a predominantly white institution. Today, through Play Like a Girl, I fund scholarships for young black women pursuing STEM degrees from historically black colleges or universities where they can easily find the community of supportive faculty and peers they need to ensure they get their exploit full potential.
Why is it important to get girls interested in sports from a young age and what are your strategies to get girls involved in sports?
A 2018 study conducted by Serious & Young found that 94% of women in C-suite positions are former athletes. Success in business requires a level of intensity and competition that can only be learned through sport. However, girls are now six times more likely than boys to drop out by the age of 14, thereby eroding the natural benefits of participating in sports.
Girls just don’t get the same positive endorsement for participating in sports as boys do. The best way to get girls to play is to encourage them and let them know they belong and have reasons to play that go well beyond the field. Play Like a Girl has created a positive social environment that intentionally fosters a sense of belonging that is essential to keeping girls in the game.
Photo: Courtesy of Play Like a Girl
What is the connection between sport and STEM that expands their physical and mental abilities?
“Exercise” plays a significant role in every stage of women’s lives, from girls to C-suite executives. With their problem-solving skills and team-building experiences, women who have played sports are uniquely positioned to be leaders in the corporate world—particularly in competitive, male-dominated fields like STEM.
Female athletes represent an often untapped pipeline of leadership in the workplace. They are natural high achievers, influential leaders and team players who bring tremendous value to the business.
Photo: Courtesy of Play Like a Girl
Which character-forming qualities from sport can be transferred to managers?
Female athletes have the confidence, leadership and team building skills that cannot be taught in the classroom. And when they enter the boardroom, they have a unique advantage rooted in a strong work ethic and their keen competitiveness and determination, coupled with an unmatched ability to recover from failure and loss.
Please explain your partnership with the NFL, how it supports your nonprofit’s mission, goals, and values, and what’s next for Play Like a Girl.
Play Like a Girl has partnered with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) since 2019 to create a level playing field for girls and women. In addition to funding sports and STEM programs for middle school girls, this partnership gives Play Like a Girl a unique opportunity to partner with current and former players who help us fulfill our mission. Play Like a Girl is excited to partner with the NFLPA and NFL FLAG to bring STEM education to the February 2023 Pro Bowl, Super Bowl and FLAG championship games.