The Toronto Raptors Vice President of Basketball Operations, Teresa Resch, is on a mission to create a more inclusive culture within the NBA.
Teresa joined the Raptors in 2013, becoming the first woman to work in the organisation in a non-support capacity, which made headlines at the time.
But Teresa hopes society will get to a point where a woman joining a senior role within the NBA will not be newsworthy - it will just be the norm.
“It was really overwhelming when I started in 2013. I knew there weren’t many women in these positions where you directly interact with the team. I had never worked for a team before, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I had a lot of imposter syndrome.”
“Growing up, sport was always a big part of my life. I was from a very small town with only 1200 people. While I had the opportunity to play all sports in high school, there were no recruiters coming to my part of Minnesota.”
“After leaving high school, I chose to play Division 2 college volleyball, and I realised my athletic career didn’t have to end.”
“I studied Business Communications with a minor in Journalism. Then in my freshman year we hosted the Division 2 volleyball national championships, and I saw that there was an opportunity to work in sport without being a professional sports player. The industry was much bigger than playing on a court, and it opened my eyes to other opportunities.”
“I then went to grad school in South Florida so I could intern and be exposed to the sports industry, and to get more real life experiences. One graduate internship I did was at ESPN Wide World of Sports, and one of the events I worked on was the NBA Draft Combine."
"Through that experience I met the basketball operations team from the New York office. They offered me an entry level position and I moved to New York, without ever having visited it!”
“After two years I transitioned to working in international basketball operations, then after three years I moved to work in health and fitness, and then I returned to professional sports where I was given the opportunity to work on the team side.”
As VP of Basketball Operations for the Toronto Raptors, Teresa’s job involves making sure anyone connected to the club has the resources necessary to compete at championship level; liaising between the business side of sports entertainment and the basketball team itself; and communicating externally what the team is doing and building the brand.
“If my teenage self could see me now, she wouldn’t be able to handle it. Growing up I had a very narrow view of the world, so I think she would be very excited to see where I am now - I've travelled globally and been exposed to cultures and places I never knew existed, and met a lot of diverse and incredible people.”
Teresa’s role is also centred around the advancement of players and staff, by introducing pillars of wellness and organisational culture and inclusion into team operations. As a member of the NBA Global Inclusion Council, Teresa is particularly interested in the development of women in team operations and in coaching positions.
“Women are half of the world's population, so if you limit yourself to only men working in your team, then you’re missing out on half of the world’s potential. Creating equal opportunities for women provides a greater pool of talent. As women we bring a different perspective - there are characteristics of females that are beneficial to a group.”
“We’re always looking for a new way to have an advantage against our competitors, so extending opportunities to half of the world is only going to help us get better.”
Teresa notes that significant improvements have been made in inclusion and diversity since she first joined the Raptors nine years ago.
“For a long time after I started there was only men’s team-issued apparel. Now they’ve done a great job of having specific sizes and cuts for women’s clothing, rather than just expecting them to wear smaller men’s sizes. That’s something so little, but it goes a long way.”
“It's also not out of the ordinary now to see women representing teams and evaluating talent. There are still not enough women, but it feels very different to when I first started. There is space for women that wasn’t there before. Hiring teams are targeting women, which is great.”
But Teresa says there’s still a lot of work to be done in the NBA to make it more inclusive.
“There’s definitely a higher need for safety and security for women, so they feel a stronger sense of belonging in their position. That doesn’t exist in the industry at the moment. For women to move to the next level and break barriers in professional sports organisations, that needs to change. I’ve definitely seen more women who leave the industry, or who are hesitant to join, than men.”
“Representation matters. We need more women working in public facing roles and we need to be telling their stories. There are still barriers that need to be broken for women.”
"We’ll know we have crossed a threshold when a woman being hired at a senior level team is no longer headline news."
Teresa believes that girls and women of all ages need more support when it comes to the sporting industry. “As a society we have moved on hugely, in terms of girls playing sports not considered unusual. The cliff that happens in teenage years, where there’s a significant drop off of teens playing sport, is what we need to address.”
“We need to provide the same type of career opportunities for women’s sport on the court. There’s a lot of professional women's sports where they don't have the same financial security as they do in men’s sports. We need to figure out a way to value women’s sports in the same way we do men’s sports through viewership and sponsorships.”
“It’s hugely important that fans see more women when they go to games. Athletes are the most visual public figures in sports. There needs to be more investment and value in women working in sport professionally.”
“The biggest thing I would like to see change for women in the NBA over the next ten years, is for them to feel safe, secure, and that they can be their authentic selves in society, and know that they are valued and belong there.”
Written by Holly Droy
*All photographs provided by Teresa Resch