“Leaning in” and adding value to the conversation is essential to getting ahead in your career, whether you have worked for a company for a while or you are a rookie. Being bold and fearless is particularly important in the male-dominated industry of sports journalism.
ESPN production assistant Kayla Johnson and associate producer Talaya Wilkins are providing support to one another as they make their presence known at ESPN. Johnson and Wilkins both grew up playing sports. Out of this love, they developed career interests in sports journalism. They are proving that women know what they are talking about in the world of sports beyond cheering from the sidelines.
“Keeping yourself relevant, being vocal in meetings and challenging your male counterparts is all a part of the game,” says Wilkins. She has worked at ESPN for the last seven years. When Wilkins first started at ESPN she could count on her fingers how many African-American women worked in her department.
“We see each other everywhere so I admire the growth… something to be proud of,” Wilkins says, noting the mentor relationship she has with Johnson.
Johnson graduated from Stetson University in May with her degree in Media and Communication studies, and a minor in Sports Management and Journalism. She did not wait to jump start her career. Wilkins is giving Johnson the extra push needed to move her career along, from entry-level “tasker” to someone called on for specific projects. As a production assistant, Johnson does content screening, reformatting and cutting highlights for Sports Center. She is the daughter of former NFL player Tim Johnson and grew up around a culture of athleticism, playing high school basketball. She knew that she was most passionate about sports, writing and loved speaking to people. Pursuing sports journalism only made sense.
“I’ve taken her under my wing so to speak and encouraged her on ways stay ahead of the game… It’s always a challenge not to get lost in the shuffle competing with so many others so I try to advice when I can,” Wilkins says.
According to a 2012 study released by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, 90 percent of sports editors are white and the same percentage are men. Whites make up at least 86 percent of all assistant editors, columnists, reporters and copy editors covering sports too. At least 80 percent of those in each category are men.
“In three to five years I see myself producing a show and beginning to develop my own shows or working as a reporter for ESPN.com,” Johnson said. In February, she will have the opportunity to work on a project she’s passionate about, College Women’s Basketball.