Several years ago, EY launched the Women Athletes Business Network to help top women athletes transition from competitive sports into successful careers in business and leadership. Our research found that 94% of C-suite women played sports, so we decided to see what would happen when you support competitive athletes through mentorships with top women in business.
Our hypothesis was correct: The skills and experience gained through sports translate into marketable leadership skills.
Last year, we expanded our efforts with a new pilot program, hiring nine female 2016 Rio competitors from six countries directly into our ranks at EY as interns.
I'm happy to note all of these interns in our "experiment" have delighted their managers and added value to their teams. In fact, many of them will be joining EY full-time this year.
We've seen the success that comes with tapping into this talent pool and we've examined why athletes are especially qualified for business environments. Here's what we found:
1. They see projects through to completion
Society is quick to celebrate the seemingly overnight success stories. But, in business, like sports, there is no such thing. The work is done behind the scenes, with weeks and sometimes even months of preparation going into the teaming, strategy and execution.
It takes a strong work ethic to spend countless hours preparing for competition that's often measured in seconds. And as crushing as it may feel in the moment to lose, athletes pick themselves up, learn from the experience and prepare for the next challenge.
As tennis pro Martina Navratilova said, "Failure is an opportunity to do better."
This perseverance and focus is what strengthens teams and helps get projects through the finish line.
2. They have an uncanny ability to motivate themselves and others
Athletes don't only rely on the roar of a crowd to cheer them on or the shouts from a coach to push them. They also draw from within.
One of our Olympic interns shared the story of a coach who said nothing during the team's practice sessions leading up to the Rio games. She and her teammates had no choice but to step-up, remain motivated and hold each other accountable during their practice sessions.
Another Rio intern says she uses her imagination to envision success, "visualizing confidence, execution and affirmation" on the field and in the workplace.
3. They know how to collaborate and work as a team
Athletes know how to work with and maximize diverse skills and perspectives to execute and win. At EY, that means creating high-performing teams with a shared vision, the right mix of talent and a keen focus on high-quality results.
This is important in the era of disruption, where companies are facing highly complex problems that traditional solutions may not fix. Team sport prepares athletes to work in such a disrupted environment. We've seen first-hand how athletes engage in healthy conflict, commit to decisions and accept accountability for the outcomes.
The drive, discipline and dedication that athletes exhibit all contribute to their career success. Some organizations look no further than to the traditional hallmarks found on a resume, such as past work experience and internships, which elite athletes may miss out on due to time commitments and extensive training. Companies who overlook this talent pool are missing out.
At EY, we've seen how these women thrive in a culture of high-performing teams.
This success has inspired us to expand our work with athletes this year in bold, new ways. By leveraging a supplier that helps professional athletes transition from sport to the workplace, we'll be recruiting female and male athletes from various sports backgrounds from around the world.
Why? Because their skills and experience will continue to contribute to our bottom line and help bring our purpose of building a better working world to life.
The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.
Nancy Altobello is the Global Vice Chair of Talent at EY. She leads EY's Talent function, focusing on the recruitment, learning, development, coaching and mentoring of approximately 250,000 people across 152 countries. In her 35 years with EY, she has held a number of senior roles, including Americas vice chair, talent; Northeast region managing partner for assurance and advisory business services (AABS); and global client service partner for many of EY's largest global accounts.