On Feb. 6, the MIT women’s basketball team had the opportunity to meet with Paula Madison, chairman and CEO of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks and a member of the WNBA Board of Governors. A former executive vice president at NBC, Madison served as the keynote speaker at MIT’s 39th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast Celebration.
During Madison’s lunch with the team, they discussed how as young girls they were encouraged to participate in sports and brainstormed ideas about how to increase the population of young female athletes, in addition to retaining them at the high school and college levels. On the academic side, they talked about how women in sports face similar difficulties as women in engineering.
Earlier in the day at the MLK Jr. Breakfast, Madison addressed this year’s theme, “Illuminating the Elements of Meritocracy.” She stressed the importance of support and encouragement from peers and mentors, saying she had made a gift to her alma mater, Vassar College, to set up such a program. That gift, she said, was designed “to improve the life of all black staff, faculty and students there. … What I wanted to do was insert something that would make a change.”
In its pursuit of meritocracy, Madison urged the MIT community, “Don’t stop talking about it.” But talking alone is never enough, she added. The next step is, “Now, what are you going to do about it? Everybody may not feel as included as they’d like to be.”
To make meritocracy a reality, she suggested, “It’s probably time to take a multilayered approach” — including asking members of underrepresented groups, “What is the happiness quotient here?”
The women’s basketball team closes out the regular season on Saturday, Feb. 16 at Clark University. Should the Engineers come away with a victory, they will clinch a spot in the upcoming New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference championship tournament to be held next week.