For the NHL to improve its workplace diversity, it first had to find the benchmark.
Following the league’s Board of Governors meeting Tuesday, the NHL released its first-ever diversity and inclusion report among the league office and 32 teams. The goal, NHL executive vice president of social impact and growth initiatives Kim Davis said, is to create a starting point that the league can measure and hold itself accountable against over the coming years.
“We have this baseline from now to launch,” Davis told USA TODAY Sports.
She added: “You can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you are. I think that was the real reason and purpose when I shared the idea with (commissioner Gary Bettman) and the owners of ultimately producing this report.
“It’s not to have a nice, glossy report. It’s for us to be transparent regarding where we are across all of these important dimensions that we know ultimately lead to increased fandom.”
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According to the data compiled earlier this year, 83.6% of league employees identify as white. Asian people were the next-highest group represented (4.17%), while Black and Hispanic people make up 3.74% and 3.71%, respectively, of staff. Indigenous persons accounted for 0.5% of the workforce. Five clubs do not have a form of a functioning diversity and inclusion group.
On the ice, players are roughly 90% white, according to a 2020 FiveThirtyEight analysis.
“As we want to build a pipeline of more elite BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) players so that the funnel grows – you get more out of the funnel when the funnel is larger,” Davis said. “You got to have more coaches (of color). Representation counts.”
The NHL has introduced a series of programs to expose players to different viewpoints. More than 40 women have participated in the NHL Officiating Exposure Combine through 2022. This past offseason, Mike Grier became the first Black general manager in league history with the San Jose Sharks. In 2022, six women – all white – were named assistant general managers.
In the coaching space, certain clubs have diverse coaching or scouting internship programs. The demographic data is more diverse when assessing full-time internship and fellowship programs: Black, 13.97%; Asian 11.76%, Hispanic/Latino 5.88%.
While the demographics of rosters may not change overnight, promoting diversity can go a long way in attempting to change the culture in a sport that has been plagued by gatekeeping.
“When you have female referees and linespersons, that is going to present a new and different kind of exposure for players,” Davis said. “When you have GMs and assistant general managers that are leading in the locker rooms, that’s going to change the dynamics in the locker rooms.”
To compile the report, the league interviewed female and non-white fans. The NHL is aware of how the country’s demographics are changing and what it will look like in a few decades. If the NHL wants to earn its fair share of that engagement, “we have to continue to lean into these change elements,” Davis said.
Female employment (36.81%) mirrors the NHL fanbase, which is a goal for the league, Davis said. However, that is not the case when it comes to hiring people of color.
“The image of our brand has to improve among these under-indexed audiences,” Davis said. “So there’s a lot of work underway to build our brand in these communities.”
For sexual orientation, more than 93% of employees responded to the survey as “straight/heterosexual.” Bisexual was next (1.52%) followed by gay (1.12%) and lesbian (0.81%). Three percent opted not to answer that question.
The league will move into what Davis called “Phase 2” now that it has data in hand. It will prioritize its seven-dimension framework to improve diversity: leadership, education, employment, marketing, partnerships, participation and community engagement.
Davis said that leadership being the first and most important point in the framework is not by accident. Bettman is committed to improvements in diversity, and the topic is on the agenda of every Board of Governors meeting, she said.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.