Quebecer Catherine Raîche recalled hearing sighs of exasperation during a telephone interview after saying she was a college recruiter for the NFL.
During his first term with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019, Raîche had to regularly call institutions across the United States to obtain information on certain prospects. Very often, his requests were met with perplexed responses from his interlocutors.
“I was asked to send a photo of my business card because they didn’t believe I was a recruiter,” recalled Raîche, who is currently the assistant general manager of the Cleveland Browns and vice president of their football operations. It’s happened a bunch of times, and it’s not like it happened a decade ago. »
Today, fortunately, these awkward conversations and perplexed reactions occur much less often.
Raîche, the woman with the highest executive position in league history, is one of the pioneers who are now helping other women carve out prominent positions in a league that was traditionally reserved for men. After years of progressing at a snail’s pace, the most powerful league in the United States now has a record number of women in its ranks.
However, despite spectacular progress in less than a decade, the NFL has still failed to achieve gender parity, and the Goodell Circuit faces numerous allegations ranging from discrimination based on sex to harsh environments. toxic work.
The Browns, one of the most progressive organizations in the league when it comes to equity, were also roundly criticized last year for agreeing a lucrative contract — which is fully guaranteed — to quarterback Deshaun Watson, despite numerous allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment made by more than twenty women.
Although he received an 11-game suspension in connection with these allegations, several serious issues remain to be resolved.
“We’ve only just scratched the surface, but when you put it under the microscope and analyze the progress the NFL has made over the last seven years compared to the previous century, you see tremendous progress. , said Sam Rapoport, the NFL’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, and a driving force in the league’s efforts to achieve parity.
In recent years, more and more women have been given key positions across the league, helping to reshape the hierarchy in professional football.
And it’s not just at the top of the pyramid. Everywhere from the office staff, to the coaches, to the referees, to the equipment managers and to the athletic therapists, the league finally began to be a mirror of society. Positions traditionally reserved for men are now accessible to women as well.
This season, 222 women work full-time on the NFL’s coaching staff or football operations, a modest increase from 199 last year — but a mammoth jump of 141 percent since 2020. Ten women occupy full-time positions on the coaching staff, the highest total in league history, and 11 clubs had female coaches during their summer training camp, another high.
According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, the average female representation in NFL front offices was 41.3 percent in 2022, a record, and a significant increase from 29.6 percent in 2014. .
It’s taken a long time, but women, who make up just over half the U.S. population and nearly half the NFL’s target audience — estimated at around 80 million — are starting to get more opportunities to hiring.
Rapoport led the NFL’s first women’s forum in 2017, aiming to connect more women with NFL teams. Just like Raîche, he was always irritated by the fact that women could not aspire to have a career in a sport they loved.
“There were no women on the coaching staff,” recalled Rapoport, who grew up in Canada, like Raîche, loving professional football. There were no women on the recruiting teams, and several of us said, ‘This needs to change.’