By Meara Isenberg The Dallas Morning News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Jen Welter, who became the first female coach in the NFL joined a supercharged panel of fantastic females at the third annual Women Ambassador's Forum. Welter, whose life has been filled with firsts, offered some advice to women, "Being the first is great, but what is most important is not being the last."
The Dallas Morning News
The first time Jen Welter was offered the opportunity to get on the field with professional male football players, she considered it to be a publicity stunt. She promptly turned down the offer.
"I told them absolutely not," Welter said. "If you want to do anything with me, it's step for step, hit for hit, or I do nothing at all. In that moment I said, this is going to happen. It was a defining moment."
Though Welter rejected that initial opportunity to play professional football, it would later help propel her to become the first ever female coach in the National Football League.
She talked about her experiences Wednesday during a panel discussion at the third annual Women Ambassador's Forum at Southern Methodist University.
Welter was joined on the Women in Leadership panel by Maria Cramer, a vice president with Hitachi Consulting; Carrie Tharp, chief marketing officer of the Neiman Marcus Group; and Carla Eboli, chief marketing officer at Dieste Inc.
The panelists spoke to about 40 young women from 15 countries who are attending the four-day forum, which concludes Friday. They addressed issues ranging from how the pathways to leadership for men and women differ to how women need to prepare to be successful.
"Be brave about what you are bringing to the table," Eboli told the group. "Be knowledgeable about what you're bringing to the table, and the differences that you are bringing will make the conversation bigger and better."
Tharp urged the audience to take advantage of new opportunities that are unfolding for women throughout the world.
"Over the last couple of years you've seen women taking on lots of roles that they haven't had before, and there are studies that show women are very strong leaders and managers," Tharp said. "It's a great moment for women to continue to build their influence."
Welter certainly made the most of her opportunities. After getting her undergraduate degree in marketing and human resource management from Boston College, Welter took her first job as a headhunter with a vision of taking over the advertising world.
Although she was financially stable, she was not happy sitting behind a desk.
"I remember telling my mom it feels like I'm dying a little bit each day because I couldn't imagine myself living out the rest of my life like that," Welter said.
So in 2014 Welter became a running back with the Texas Revolution of Champions Indoor Football, a men's semi-pro league. That made her the second female professional at a position other than kicker or placekick holder on a men's pro team.
Eventually, after obtaining her master's degree in sports psychology and a Ph.D. in psychology, Welter became a coach with the Revolution. And in 2015, she became the first female NFL coach when the Arizona Cardinals signed her to coach their inside linebackers.
"Though there was no career for women in football, what I could do was take that practical on-the-field experience and marry it with theoretical knowledge and become someone who was completely unique within the industry."
Cramer understands the value of being unique. She told the young women that they need to be "conscious and aware that those opportunities exist, and then you have to have the courage and strength to step through that door."
Linda Ndlovu, one of the attendees from South Africa, said the panelists inspired her and gave her hope.
"Sometimes we see people in a leadership position and we think, 'Oh wow, they are superhuman,'" Ndlovu said. "It just shows that I can also do it with my background and my experiences."
Welter, whose life has been filled with firsts, offered some parting advice to the women.
"Being the first is great, but what is most important is not being the last," Welter said. "I was so consciousness every time I stepped up, because I didn't want my narrative to be 'we had a girl once, but . . ..' Just realize as you're the first, continue to set the stage so you're not the last."