WINS Forum embraces ‘Leading with Boldness’ theme

Hosted on Nov. 10, the fourth annual event was highlighted by an in-person panel discussion featuring prominent female leaders Sherí Barros, Elizabeth Motta and Jennifer Strawley.

A group of five women stand together following the WINS Forum.
The Women Influencers in Sport (WINS) Forum was headlined by an insightful panel discussion centered around the theme of “A PowHERful Era: Leading with Boldness.” The panel featured, from left, moderator Karen Lindsey, Jennifer Strawley, Sherí Barros and Elizabeth Motta. Also pictured (far right) is Shaina Dabbs, who oversees the WINS initiative. All photos courtesy of Aidan Blake ’26.

Persistence, understanding data and knowing your personal values.

According to Associate Professor Shaina Dabbs, these were among the most significant takeaways from this fall’s Women Influencers in Sport (WINS) Forum, the fourth installation of the annual event that celebrates women in the sport industry, while also educating aspiring professionals on the industry’s trends, challenges and opportunities.

Barros looks to the right as Motta gestures with her hand.
Barros (left) looks on as Motta addresses fellow panelists during the forum in Turner Theatre.

The Nov. 10 event was headlined by an afternoon panel featuring several prominent sport industry leaders, including Sherí Barros, vice president of sports partnerships at the American Cancer Society; Elizabeth Motta, vice president of insights and analytics at World Wrestling Entertainment; and Jennifer Strawley, director of athletics at Elon University. The hourlong conversation was moderated by Karen Lindsey, assistant professor of strategic communications.

Dabbs said the forum’s 130 attendees benefited from the panel’s make-up, which featured expertise in college athletics, nonprofit work, and billion-dollar sports entertainment corporations. Don’t miss our Flickr album highlighting the 2023 WINS Forum.

“We were fortunate to have a panel that offered so many diverse perspectives and insights, from Liz’s work with data and how she uses data to help the business understand the consumer, to Sheri’s work with professional sport organizations on branding and strategy to help support the fight against cancer, to Jenn’s navigating of the challenges of balancing the ever-changing landscape of college athletics with what is best for the student-athlete,” Dabb said. “Despite their differences, it was clear that leadership is rewarding, challenging, unpredictable, and something we all can improve on.”

This year’s forum adopted the theme of “A PowHERful Era: Leading with Boldness,” delving into topical subjects such as social media, branding and leadership in today’s sport industry.

It is a relevant theme given women’s sports are in an era of growth in popularity and value. Case in point, media coverage for women’s sports has nearly tripled in five years, and viewership and attendance records are being set across female sports. Look no further than Nebraska’s volleyball program setting a world record for women’s sports attendance, drawing 92,000 fans to an August match.

Strawley smiles surrounded by a group of women.
Strawley speaks to students during the forum’s networking and social event at The Oak House in downtown Elon.

As women’s sports are having a moment, the panelists charged students to seek their moment, too.

Dabbs said the panelists instructed students to “lean into opportunity instead of being fearful you are not ready,” she said. “If given the opportunity, trust you are meant to have that opportunity, regardless of your position, age, rank, or years of experience.”

Beyond confidence, the aspiring sport industry professionals were told to embrace data and data storytelling, which play a significant role in making business decisions today. Students should not only be proficient in Excel, but they also need to understand what the data is telling them, and they need to explain that meaning to decision-makers.

Students and attendees were also encouraged to “stay true to your personal values throughout your career,” Dabbs said. “Your values should guide everything you do, and as you navigate the workplace, have an open mind because the journey is not a straight line.” Attendees were challenged to continue educating themselves, learning not only about their own industries but others as well. This additional “knowledge from different sectors will help you perfect your own,” Dabbs said.

While Lindsey’s expertise is in public relations, DEI and inclusive communications, Dabbs called her the ideal person to shepherd the conversation, bringing in a fresh point of view to the sport-centric topics.

“Dr. Lindsey was my first choice as moderator. Not only is she a fellow colleague and friend, she lights up a room, is engaging and also thoughtful,” Dabbs said. “Her perspective from outside of the sport industry allowed the audience to see how the challenges facing leaders and leadership are universal.”

Since its launch in 2018, WINS has seen tremendous growth and interest. According to Dabbs, WINS has grown by 700% over the last four years, welcoming members from academic majors across campus.

“The WINS Forum is much more than just a day,” Dabbs said. “Yes, it is a day filled with engagement, connection, conversation, empowerment, support, professional development, impact, and life-changing moments. But it is an experience that lasts much longer. It positively impacts students, guests, and program alumni in the present and in the future. It is not often you find a program and a day that joins together so many different people at various stages of their lives committed to empowering and inspiring the next generation of leaders on campus, in the workplace, and in our communities.”

In fact, 10 WINS alumni returned for the forum to speak, educate and network with WINS students. Following the panel conversation, a networking and social event was held at The Oak House in downtown Elon.