Bianca Smith, Red Sox minor league coach and first black woman in pro baseball, talks to Yahoo Finance's Jen Rogers about the role of women in sports and in the broader workplace. Smith is on Yahoo Finance's exclusive list, THE NEXT: 21 to watch in 2021.
BIANCA SMITH: I'm Bianca Smith, I'm a minor league coach for the Boston Red Sox. And my focus this year is to help develop our players as much as I can and help them get to the next level.
JEN ROGERS: You are the first female black coach in professional baseball. This will be your first spring training. When I read about pitchers and catchers returning, as a baseball fan, even I get excited. There has to be something different about it being professional baseball? Is there, or is that just in my head as a fan?
BIANCA SMITH: I mean, I'm still going to be working with athletes that want to get better. I'm still going to be working with baseball players. Yeah, the skill level is going to be different. But overall for me, it's the same. I approach it the same way. I do what got me where I am today. So I think what's going to be really different is really just kind of the name on the front of the jersey.
JEN ROGERS: So let's talk about how you got where you are. First of all, did you always want to do this? Were there other sports you ever considered? Or was it just always baseball?
BIANCA SMITH: Well, baseball has been my favorite sport since I was three. But I didn't even consider working in sports until I got to college. I actually wanted to be a veterinarian for 12 years. And then I took one science class in college and went, this is not the path for me. I need to find something else.
I decided that I wanted to work in sports. It was going to be baseball. Well, my parents were definitely a big part, just encouraging me to continue to pursue it. My siblings and I, we all grew up with a mentality that you do what you love, and the money will come. So don't worry about that, just as long as you're enjoying what you're doing.
My mom used to say all the time, you spend the majority of your life working. You might as well enjoy what you're doing. So that was the big thing for my parents, was they tried to emphasize that we don't care what your title is. We don't care how much money you're making. If you need help financially to do what you love, then that's fine. We're willing to help you out, as long as you love it.
JEN ROGERS: All right, let's talk about coaching men because you are a woman, and you are in a men's sport. How do you get them to listen to you?
BIANCA SMITH: By not forcing it. I mean, it is building a relationship, whether you're a man or a woman. I mean, approaching a player, you're not going to just jump in and start giving them instruction. They're not going to listen to you just because you're the coach. They're going to listen to you when they find out that not only do you know what you're talking about, you actually care about them because it's not about the coaches. It's about the players.
It's not about the coach's ego or their career. It's about helping a player get better. And sometimes that also means stepping back and realizing that you're not the best coach for them, and somebody else is going to have to step in.
JEN ROGERS: Do you feel like you face more racism or sexism? Or do you really feel like you are treated as an equal because of the skills you bring?
BIANCA SMITH: There hasn't been a lot. I definitely have faced some sexism in the game, not a lot to discourage me, thankfully. I've had way more support than negative comments. And it's usually been stereotypical comments. Like I've had the high school coach who sort of joked that he could hire me to make sandwiches after I finished graduate school. This is after telling him that I was getting a law to business degree, everything I was doing for the baseball team. And his first thought was me making food.
And sure, I've had the, oh, are you the equipment manager? Are you the trainer? Are you just the regular manager? Are you a player's girlfriend? I've even had, are you a player's mother? Like, these kids are four years younger than me. That makes no sense. And I'm in uniform. What makes you think I'm the mom?
And then I have had a coach who told me that I would probably never get hired as a coach because I was a woman. And honestly, that just fueled me to be better, rather than discourage me. So yeah, I've certainly faced those comments. But I've tried to never let them get me down. Like I said, I've had way more support than negativity coming my way. So that's helped a lot.
JEN ROGERS: Women have made big inroads in male sports this year. We had the first female GM in Major League Baseball. We also had the first woman to play football in a Power Five conference. We have you. Are these just little bits and pieces and one-offs, or do you think it's part of a larger trend?
BIANCA SMITH: I definitely think it's a larger trend. As more women show that gender doesn't matter, that we actually can do these jobs, more teams are going to be willing to look at more women. And this is where representation also comes in.
I do realize that a lot of women who might be interested in this game or any sport, they might not be applying for these jobs because they're also telling themselves, there's no way I can get this, either because nobody else has done it or I'm just a woman, nobody is going to listen to me. Now that they're seeing this too, more women are going to be more willing to actually apply and try for these positions. And that's going to give teams an opportunity to bring in more women.
JEN ROGERS: What can women in other fields, not sports, take away from your story?
BIANCA SMITH: To never give up. If this is your passion and this is something you want to do with your life, it's going to be hard work. I mean, anything worth doing is going to be hard. But it's worth it in the end. So just never give up. Find where you bring value to your organization, to your team in any industry. And keep pushing.
Take whatever opportunities come your way. And then build off of those. Take on responsibilities. The coaches I've worked for would probably joke that I kind of take on their responsibilities without them realizing it until I've already done it. So I've gotten very good at just kind of sneaking my way in and being like, oh, OK, I'll do this for you. I'll take over this for you. And all of a sudden, I'm pretty much just running the team.