Ashley Clinkscale and Karen Wilkins-Mickey know what it’s like to survive and thrive as the only women in the room.
Clinkscale, the Portland Trail Blazers SVP of Communications, Community and Diversity, and Wilkins-Mickey, the Seattle Seahawks VP of Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity, have not only succeeded in largely male-dominated environments, but navigated through workplaces where they were one of few Black leaders.
“We’re used to walking in a room and there’s not very many of us,” Wilkins-Mickey said. “But for Ashley and I, that’s a challenge that we’re willing to take on. Our job is to identify that that is something we really want to change...
In honor of Women’s History Month, NBC Sports Northwest celebrates the achievements of Wilkins-Mickey and Clinkscale as we reflect upon the advances the two women have made over the past two decades to build a culture of respect, equality and inclusiveness within a number of organizations.
“I think it’s been a long time coming,” Clinkscale said of the entire month of March recognizing the strides women have made. “Women have been the backbone of this country, women have been the backbone of the sports industry and the work we’re doing. How is this month moving the needle for women? How do you go beyond this month of recognition to where it's everyday?
“The fact that we’re coming off of Black History Month, which means a ton to me, as a woman of color in Women’s History Month, I feel like it means being able to amplify my voice in a way that creates positive change,” Wilkins-Mickey added. “I am so passionate about helping others that look like me see a path forward. And not only people that look like but being a woman of color and where I am today, it means more than words.”
Wilkins-Mickey served as Director of Diversity & Inclusion for Alaska Airlines, and held previous diversity and inclusion leadership roles within Expedia Group and Microsoft before being hired as the first-ever Seahawks VP of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Jan. 2021.
She takes great pride in knowing that Seahawks president Chuck Arnold felt it was critical to add this position to their leadership team. Wilkins-Mickey also knows that with responsibility comes “huge, huge, huge challenge,” but she’s committed to establishing and enhancing diversity within the Seahawks organization.
“I realize what this means, and I don’t take it lightly, and I want to do well by it, for me, for those that come behind me, those that want to do this work, those that have the passion to do this work,” Wilkins-Mickey said. “I really feel like I need to help bring others along. I see this responsibility as one in which, not only do I want to deliver. I want to have impact; I want to drive change. I want to shift the culture to a place that is truly inclusive and welcoming.”
Clinkscale previously worked for the Oklahoma City Thunder as their Director of Corporate Communication before the Trail Blazers hired her in April 2020. Past experiences include supporting in-house consumer campaigns for The PGA of America, CSE, St. John & Partners, Moroch Partners and Greenville Drive (MILB).
Throughout her years of experience, she’s noticed a tremendous culture shift when it comes to conversation around DEI and the issues associated with severe lack of diversity—especially in sports.
“My path of how I started in golf and baseball and there was no talk of diversity,” Clinkscale recalls. “There was no conversation around equitable environments and opportunities for employees. And now to be at the forefront where we have a CJ McCollum who is having these very intelligent and intentional conversations from the players side and holding us accountable as an organization, I’m excited about all that’s to come and that we’re able to partner and do, because it’s been a long road. I’ll say that, but I’m excited to do the work.”
Following a summer of protests following the tragic death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, the Trail Blazers and Seahawks are looking to their DEI leaders to build an organizational culture that embraces racial equity, sets the tone, and drives progress to work.
It’s an overdue awakening throughout the nation.
“We have been here,” Wilkins-Mickey said. “We were here before George Floyd. We were fighting this work and doing the work hard, and getting resistance and being at the table, but not being heard. Being silenced or it not being a priority… it’s just funny that it’s relevant. We were always here.”
While both Clinkscale and Wilkins-Mickey will certainly face challenges in navigating this unique landscape, especially as athletes within the Trail Blazers and Seahawks organizations focus on measurable action, they acknowledge that putting the next generation at the forefront is crucial.
“Making sure and utilizing their voice, making sure it’s heard and that their opinion is valued, it’s a challenge that’s kind of self-inflicted at times, but also feeling that empowerment to do that, I’m excited,” Clinkscale said. “This next generation has so much more opportunity and accessibility for using their voices and knowing that their opinions matter...