How a Business Background Prepared Cathy Engelbert to Take on the Role of WNBA Commissioner
“As I’ve come into the role as commissioner of the WNBA, the vision is to run a very player-first agenda,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said behind the scenes at our Women and Worth Summit in March. “We have 144 of the most diverse athletes in sport and really use that women’s leadership platform to drive change in society around how a women’s sports league gets valued, how a woman gets valued, how she gets paid, how she gets a benefits package and how she gets travel upgrades and things like that.”
Up until that point, Engelbert had spent her career at Deloitte, most recently serving as CEO for four years. Then, in July 2019, Engelbert made the leap from Deloitte CEO to WNBA commissioner. When she stepped in, she already had a big challenge in front of her: determining a new collective bargaining agreement.
“Lacking the law degrees, consumer product marketing experience and professional sports league experience of her predecessors and her peers in other U.S. leagues, Engelbert is an unconventional pick for a commissioner, but that may be an asset for a league in need of an organizational and economic overhaul,” Forbes reported last summer.
So far, this has turned out to be the case, with the collective bargaining agreement heralded as “groundbreaking” in a press release from the WNBA. The eight-year agreement features a 53 percent cash compensation increase, better family leave benefits (including full salary while on maternity leave and an annual childcare stipend), upgraded travel accommodations and more career development opportunities in the off-season, among other benefits.
“My thought is we went big on our collective bargaining agreement, and the players were very, very happy with where we came out because it was a holistic look at how to treat a professional female athlete, and my hope is that that transcends into, not just women in basketball, but women in sport and women in society,” Engelbert told Worth at the summit.
A former high school and college basketball player, Engelbert attributes her confidence to playing sports.
“The confidence that built me into the leader I am today, it all started in sports,” she said. “And I didn’t know it at the time, but now…people ask, ‘How did you get here,’ and it was like, I built all this incredible confidence when I was in high school and college to compete in an otherwise male-dominated world, and that’s what helped me, so I want to help other women do the same thing and succeed.”
Engelbert closed out our Women and Worth Summit back in March, where she discussed the lessons she’s learned from the boardroom to the basketball court. See what she had to say when Worth sat down to chat with her at the summit.