By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
While the NHL season for the Seattle Kraken may be over, the organization itself is a winner when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
The Kraken, as an organization, is one of the few professional sports teams where people of color hold leadership positions throughout the company.
Tod Leiweke, CEO of the Seattle Kraken, has made it his mission to ensure the organization is on board with the idea that everyone can be a part of and love the sport of hockey.
“I think everything we are is an organization that reflects the community we serve,” Leiweke said. “I don’t know if we are necessarily unique. Last time I checked, half of the world’s population were women, but they’ve been so underrated in the sports world. Today, 45% of our front office represents gender diversity, our front office now has 25% BIPOC diversity, and that’s important. »
While it’s still fairly rare to see black hockey players in the NHL, the Kraken have demonstrated that a lack of representation on the playing surface doesn’t stop NHL franchises from having a working environment. inclusiveness and a culture of diversity in their respective organizations.
In August 2020, the Kraken made history by announcing Everett Fitzhugh as their first broadcaster, making him the NHL’s first black play-by-play announcer. The Kraken would later feature former NHL player JT Brown, who is also African American, as a color television analyst, and the duo would make history during Black History Month as the first all-black broadcast team to announce an NHL game when the Kraken played. the Winnipeg Jets on February 17.
“It was surprising at first to see a hockey team commit and dedicate themselves to diversity just because it hadn’t been done before,” Fitzhugh says.
“The vision that the Kraken organization set for itself to be representative of where we see this sport wanting to go and representative of the people and community that this team was going to play for spoke to me a lot,” said he added. “The Kraken has always believed in equity, inclusion and diversity. It’s not a PR line, it’s something that Tod Leiweke, and by virtue of him, and all of us in the organization, we fundamentally believe that it’s in our hearts that hockey is for everyone.
According to Eric Pettigrew, an African American who serves as vice president of government relations and outreach for the Kraken, the strides the Kraken has made in diversity and inclusion are intentional. In addition to Pettigrew, the organization has a number of African Americans in key positions within the organization, including Kendall Tyson, Senior Vice President of Business Analytics; Erik Jones, vice president of technology; and Senior Legal Adviser Teshome Hewan, who is of African descent, to name a few. The truth is, the Kraken have been intentional about diversity and a culture of diversity throughout the organization since day one.
“Tod Leiweke, the CEO of the Kraken, always said it was one of the first things he wanted to accomplish,” says Pettigrew. “He talked about how he wanted to start changing the face of not just hockey, but the sport in general. He was really excited [when forming the franchise] because he wanted to create opportunities for people of color in this league.
“What I liked about this organization was not that we had to bring black people here, Tod was like I wanted the best,” added Pettigrew. “And for us to get the best I have to cast a wider net than the nets that had been cast before in this business, so he cast a wide net and as a result he had a lot of good black people.”
De’Aira Anderson, corporate communications manager for the Seattle Kraken, says what she loves about working for the Kraken is that they’re not just trying to tick a box, but… are really looking to hire the best people in the organization.
“It’s definitely the culture of the organization,” Anderson says. “We’re focusing on diversity and inclusion from the ground up, that’s a company-wide goal as well as our cultural goal. But it’s also about finding the right people for the job. position and we wanted to make sure we were looking for the best talent and [hired a diverse group of people in the process]. This is how we build our organization and how we will continue to build.
Many companies have taken the time over the past year to examine their workplace culture. Sports business leaders knew, but were reminded of the importance that inclusion and diversity play in creating a work culture that has a direct correlation to the overall success of an organization.
“We’re really proud to have an organization of people from different backgrounds, races, genders and sexual orientations,” says Anderson. “So that we have a variety and diversity of ideas in the room. We’re especially proud to be a leader in this area, especially in the NHL, and it’s not just for show or to congratulate ourselves, but it’s truly something we believe in.
Experts say companies that make diversity efforts a central part of their recruitment and retention strategies have a better chance of attracting and keeping the most dedicated, engaged and productive employees. For the Kraken and the atmosphere they have created throughout their organization is a badge of honor that promotes pride, progress and an attempt to make the game of hockey appealing to a wider cross section of society who should not not be neglected.
“I come to work every day and have more black co-workers on a zoom call than I’ve had black co-workers in my entire career, period, at any job,” Fitzhugh said. “I’ve never worked with so many people of color, people who look like me, and I’ve worked in hockey my whole career and it was surprising in a good way and it made me feel comfortable .”