What the Marlins GM Kim Ng means for working women everywhere

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The Miami Marlins named Kim Ng as their new general manager last Friday, making her the first female GM in Major League Baseball, and across the four big US sports — NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB — to hold that position.

To say Ng is qualified is an understatement. She is overqualified.

Ng, 51, served as baseball’s senior vice president of baseball operations for the past nine years, before holding positions for the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. She got her start as an intern for the Chicago White Sox after graduating from the University of Chicago in 1990, working her way through analytical work and holding jobs like operating radar guns and charting pitches for the major league club.

“I entered Major League Baseball as an intern and, after decades of determination, it is the honor of my career to lead the Miami Marlins as their next General Manager,” Ng said in a statement Friday. “We are building for the long term in South Florida, developing a forward-thinking, collaborative, creative baseball operation made up of incredibly talented and dedicated staff who have, over the last few years, laid a great foundation for success.

“This challenge is one I don’t take lightly. When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely a woman would lead a Major League team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals. My goal is now to bring Championship baseball to Miami. I am both humbled and eager to continue building the winning culture our fans expect and deserve.”

Ng’s hiring is not only a historic first for women in the workplace in major US sports, but she also broke barriers becoming the first Asian American to hold the title.

“I think this is the most noteworthy day for baseball since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947,” Richard Lapchick, an expert on race and gender in sports at the University of Central Florida, told the AP.

Ng’s — pronounced Ang — journey wasn’t exactly a clear path. Like other women and minorities in the workplace, she battled discrimination, sexism, and even self-doubt before former Yankees star Derek Jeter named her GM on Friday.

Here’s a few things to know about Ng’s journey to the front office of the Miami Marlins.

Discrimination and racism

Discrimination is alive and well in the office. Women are 30% less likely to be called back for an interview than men. Pay gaps are decreasing, but still there remains a stretch. For minorities, having a less English-sounding name can hurt your application and limit job interviews.

Ng had interviewed with the Dodgers for their GM position in 2005, but was passed over for Ned Colletti at the time. She had also interviewed with the Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, and the Philadelphia Phillies.

But at the 2003 general manager meetings in Arizona, Ng was the subject of workplace harassment and racial taunts. Former Net York Mets official Bill Singer, then a special assistant, mocked Ng’s Chinese ancestry, who at the time was an assistant general manager to Dan Evans, her longtime friend and mentor.

Here’s what the Los Angeles Times reported about the altercation in 2003, which ultimately costed Singer his job:

On Tuesday, Singer approached Ng as many baseball people were gathering in the hotel bar after attending an instructional league game. Deals are often discussed after hours in bars, and the hot-stove league talk continued that night as Singer began questioning Ng at about 11 p.m.

Two officials within earshot described the exchange.

Singer: What are you doing here?

Ng: I’m working.

Singer: What are you doing here?

Ng: I’m working. I’m the Dodger assistant general manager.

Singer: Where are you from?

Ng: I was born in Indiana and grew up in New York.

Singer: Where are you from?

Ng: My family’s from China.

Singer: (Nonsensically mock Chinese). What country in China?

How she manages — and measures success

Ng was a former college softball player at the University of Chicago, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in public policy. It was those years as a collegiate softball player that enabled her to start grooming her managerial style, by way of being a captain of her softball team in high school.

“I was lucky enough to be the captain of some of my teams, and that opportunity helps me now in terms of managing people,” she told NCAA’s website in 2015. “As a manager, ultimately your job is to take a bunch of people who all have different agendas and get them moving in the same direction. Having had that early experience as a team captain at age 16 or 17 was tremendous for me.”

It’s interesting to see how such small moments in youth can measure and help larger challenges in the future. As for success, Ng said in the same interview it starts with being able to be comfortable with yourself.

“To me, being successful means being happy with who you are and what you’ve accomplished,” she said. “If you can maintain a sense of humor, sleep well at night, and feel good about looking at yourself in the mirror, you’re doing ok.”

A role model

For girls sitting at home one day dreaming of working at the highest levels of professional sports, Ng has paved the way. She’s become an overnight role model. But that didn’t come without her own doubts.

In an interview with The University of Chicago Magazine, Ng said at the time that not being named the first women to brand the general manager title wouldn’t make her career a “failure.”

“At the end of the day, if this doesn’t happen, I’m not going to see it as, “My career was a failure.” That might be other peoples’ take, but that’s not mine. I know how hard it is,” she said. “I know about all the guys who didn’t even get an interview who probably should have had an interview. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve worked extraordinarily hard to get where I am. If I don’t end up becoming a general manager, that’s just the luck of the draw. I’ve had a great career regardless.”

And one more thing: Speak freely.