She would rather be in her office crunching numbers or talking with a small group of colleagues, but Wednesday morning Seahawks CFO Karen Spencer stepped out of her comfort zone and took her place on stage at the Seattle Sports Commission's Women's Leadership Breakfast.
Spencer participated in a panel discussion that tied sports and sports participation to leadership and business skills. Former Seattle Storm CEO Karen Bryant, current Storm owner Ginny Gilder and Moyer Foundation co-founder and vice president Karen Moyer rounded out the panel.
Each had a different take on how sports creates business opportunities. Spencer stood out because of her unique perspective as an introvert and struck a chord when admitted she wasn't much of an athlete growing up. The audience of more than 400 attendees, mostly women, laughed when Spencer recalled her mother's antidote that she "flunked jungle gym in preschool."
"The biggest benefit was being able to see how being involved in sports can influence women in being leaders without having to be an athlete yourself," said Shannon Vetto, managing director at Russell Investments. "Karen was a perfect example of being the CFO of an NFL team who made her way up through the organization from the staff level. It was brave of her to admit she didn't want the stage and was an introvert. This resonated with a lot women and reinforced the fact that leadership roles are possible for introverts."
Spencer joined the Seahawks staff in 1991 as a staff accountant. She is one of three women working on the Seahawks senior management team along with Cindy Kelley (Senior Vice President/Human Resources and Administration) and Amy Sprangers (Vice President/Corporate Partnerships and Suites). That means that women represent 30% of the senior management team. It's a significant number when compared to other teams in the league and important for reaching the growing number of female fans.
"The NFL has the No. 1 fan base in the U.S. among women ages 18 to 49," Spencer explained. "Approximately 63% of them are fans of the NFL; almost 49% of the TV viewership of Seahawks games during the 2014 season in the Seattle area were women. We need women in the business of sports to continue to engage women."
This year's panel at the Third Annual SCC Leadership Breakfast included Karen Spencer from the Seattle Seahawks, Karen Moyer from the Moyer Foundation, Ginny Gilder from the Seattle Storm, and former Storm CEO, Karen Bryant. These inspiring women leaders discussed sports, leadership, and their success in business leadership roles.
It's not just about the number of fans, but the overall business numbers according to Spencer.
"Studies have proven that businesses with gender diversity at the senior management level perform better and are more profitable. In general, women are usually very collaborative, have less ego, are willing to be vulnerable and aren't afraid to ask for direction. Women tend to seek respect over recognition. We don't need to be the star of the show. We want to enable others to put on a great show."
"I like working with Karen because she is collaborative, empowering, and approachable. She shares in opportunities to work on exciting and challenging projects that have allowed me to further develop professionally," said Seahawks Director of Finance, Peter Fonfara. He reports to Spencer and occupies the office next to hers and appreciates her approach.
"Myself and others respect and enjoy working with Karen because she cares about her staff professionally and personally. She develops true relationships with co-workers and makes a positive impact in her daily interactions with all of us."
Spencer prefers one-on-one conversations and leans on her exceptional relationship-building skills to create camaraderie and build rapport. In addition, she's adept at delivering her message in a way that will lead to action and respect among other members of the senior management team.
"The collective approach of myself, Cindy and Amy in presenting recommendations to Peter [McLoughlin, Seahawks president] and other senior management is analytical, data driven, collaborative and thoughtful – not based on feelings or snap judgements. We have worked very hard for our success and have a proven track record that has given us credibility. We have a history with the organization that is respected and valued."
Her insights on the panel were certainly respected and valued by those in the audience, as well as those sharing the stage. She solidified her status as a role model in the community not just for her professional accomplishments, but for the confidence she showed in stepping outside her comfort zone.
While she would rather stay in the background and encourage others to succeed, Spencer deserves recognition for being a role model for women, introverts and business professionals.