Breaking Barriers -Leading Inclusively Cynt Marshall, 1st Black woman CEO in the NBA By Charlotte Hughes

I’ve always been an NBA fan and wrote a post earlier this year about the NBA scoring higher than the other major sports leagues, mostly due to executing diversity and inclusion best practices than the others.

I recently became a HUGE admirer of Cynt Marshall, the first Black woman CEO in the NBA, leading the Dallas Mavericks organization.

In February 2018 The #MeToo movement reached out and grabbed the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks organization leading the team to issue a statement announcing the launch of an internal investigation into misconduct within their organization.  Shortly thereafter, Sports Illustrated dropped a detailed exposé, which divulged the extent of the organization’s two-decades-long alleged culture of harassment and misogyny. For two decades, the Mavericks have been considered a model franchise. However, the accusations against the Mavericks seriously damaged the organization’s stellar reputation.

To Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s credit, he immediately fired the Dallas Mavericks’ head of human resources and in-house beat writer in response to the Sports Illustrated report that described allegations of a “hostile work environment” and “real life Animal House.”

An Act of Inclusive Leadership By Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban

The billionaire NBA owner has become known both for his “Shark Tank” business-savviness and his brutally honest opinions, also practices inclusive leadership.  Cuban actively seeks out and considers different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making. Cuban knew about Marshall who had worked for 36 years at AT&T, a place where she had leadership roles aimed at improving diversity and work-place culture practices. She then retired in 2017 to launch her own consulting firm, Marshalling Resources. With Sports Illustrated detailing various sexual harassment and domestic violence allegations within the Mavericks’ organization, and despite Marshall having no basketball or sports industry experience, Cuban decided to hire Marshall as the Mavs’ CEO as a significant first step toward addressing those issues.

If companies want to make good on their many pledges to value diversity — particularly in leadership roles — sponsorship is the “secret sauce” that spurs career mobility and ascension to the highest ranks.  If we want to see more Black women step into the C-suite, and specifically into CEO positions, they must be sponsored into positions that offer a clear path to the top along with direct advocacy and support.

Leading Inclusively Cynt Marshall, 1st Black woman CEO in the NBA, Determined not to be the Last  

In USA Today Marshall stated, “Mark showed genuine sincerity about wanting to have a culture change and wanting to get underneath what had happened to make the place better for people,” Marshall said. “He was very transparent about the stuff he should’ve known, and the things he wished he had done.”

After consulting various team employees and praying, Marshall then accepted Cuban’s offer about a month after the SI report’s publication. Since then, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle described Marshall as “one of the great leaders that I’ve ever been around” and “has transformed this organization into one of the great examples of equality and diversity.” With the 61-year-old Marshall becoming the first Black female CEO of an NBA franchise, she ensured changes in varying ways. Marshall listened to various Mavericks employees, who shared concerns both about the allegations and wishes for her to help the organization address them. Marshall asked probing questions to Cuban, who told USA TODAY Sports he had “no reason not to be completely honest with her on that or any issue.”  And Marshall then implemented various policies to improve the organization’s practices.

“I want to make sure I do a good job, be a good role model and show that it shouldn’t be unusual for a Black woman to be in a job like this. We are capable,” Marshall said. “I want to make sure I’m working and others are working to cultivate the second, third, fourth and fifth one that’s coming. I want to make sure I’m not the last. I can’t be the last, and I won’t be the last. I know I won’t be.”

Cynt Marshall: “Everyone has a role in how we reach racial justice in this country”

One of the ten leadership lessons Marshall has gained in her 40-year career at AT&T and now leading an NBA team is “Everyone has a role in how we reach racial justice in this country.”

  • “No matter who you are or what your station is in life, this means you. Everyone will have to change some part of their lives or some comfortable way of thinking, forever. All of the toxic, racist behavior we need to actively eradicate from this culture every day is insidious. It can be hidden in our own behavior and in ideas many of us haven’t examined in decades.”

Marshall outlines all ten of her leadership lessons in this Entrepreneur article.

  • On November 15, 2021 Marshall sat down with TODAY’s Hoda Kotb for a conversation about how she overcame the odds to get where she is today.
  • To understand why I admire Cynt Marshall so much, at the 2021 Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit, Cynt Marshall was joined in conversation by Hattie Hill, CEO of the T.D. Jakes Foundation, to discuss how businesses can be leaders in creating a more just, diverse, and equitable society. Cynt starts with her personal story about growing up in public housing, experiencing domestic violence, and leveraging education to rise above her situation. Cynt and Hattie then discuss creating a holistic diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda for your company, building a values-based business, and creating impact in local communities.

I admire Cynt, because she persevered and overcame significant setbacks and barriers in life, with skill, will, vision, support, and faith. She models great strength and confidence. As my Godmother used to say “doubt whom you may, but never doubt yourself.”  Anything is possible once you set your mind to it.

Another leadership lesson Cynt shared that resonates with me is “Successful business plans are built with everybody in mind.” This reinforces inclusive leadership behaviors. Effective leaders facilitate and enable everyone to contribute their ideas and energy to create better ways of operating. A culture must allow anyone internally to ask, Are we okay? Is this current process working as well as it could, and how can we improve ?”  Like we say at ILG…We meet you where you are with inclusion, insight and inspiration. ….Together, we can create a better world.

Charlotte F. Hughes is the successful Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Inclusive Leaders Group. She has designed and delivered sessions for frontline, mid-level, and senior leaders at Morgan Stanley, Cox Enterprises, Kimberly-Clark, Ascension Health, and Children’s Hospital Association among other leading organizations. Charlotte’s passion is bringing evidence-based narrative and storytelling both in the design of diversity and inclusion strategy and in driving inclusive behaviors. In addition to working collaboratively with clients, Charlotte is responsible for the growth and development of our consulting team who are central to all Inclusive Leaders Group solutions.

                         Meeting you where you are with inclusion, insight, and inspiration ….Together, we can create a better world.


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