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International Women’s Day – Meet the Women Driving the USL’s Success

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 03/08/21, 1:55PM EST

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League executives and staff share their path into the sports business, and working at the league office

TAMPA, Fla. – Over the past decade, the staff at the United Soccer League’s headquarters in Tampa has more that quadrupled, going from 15 employees in 2011 as the USL Championship launched to more than 60 full-time staff across all departments to serve the clubs that make up the Championship, League One, League Two, USL Academy League and Super Y League.

That expansion has brought about far greater diversity within the overall staff, including the arrival of numerous women to executive positions and within departments. Currently 31 percent of the USL’s full-time staff are women, and for Monday’s celebration of International Women’s Day we caught up with a few of them to talk about their paths into professional sports, key influences in their careers, and what it means to be part of a fast-growing organization like the USL.

Rachel Bukszar

Vice President, People

Q: What guided you toward a career in professional sports?

RB: I have always enjoyed sports; I have vivid memories of watching sports with my Dad every weekend. The teamwork, strategy, passion, drive to continuously improve; it did not matter if we were at a live event or watching on TV and it did not even matter which sport (of course I had my favorites), it has always been an industry I have been interested in.  Being a fan of sports and a practitioner of people culture within organizations, finding my professional path in human resources intersecting with an industry that I love is a treat and I consider myself fortunate to combine the two.

Q: What would you tell other women trying to break into sports?

RB: Dive In! Sports needs you! Your fresh ideas, thoughts, and perspectives. Be prepared to work hard, wear multiple hats, be passionate about your work, and be resilient. Be prepared to hear ‘no’ it happens to all of us, keep pushing forward towards your goals.

Rachel Bukszar

VP, People

What does it mean to be part of the USL?

"USL is such a dynamic environment that allows us the opportunity to have an impact in communities and the soccer ecosystem."

Q: What does it mean to be part of the USL?

RB: USL is such a dynamic environment that allows us the opportunity to have an impact in communities and the soccer ecosystem. There is still so much to do in the soccer landscape and beyond and USL allows us to think differently, be proactive, and continuously forge forward.

Q: Why is it important to recognize and celebrate women?

RB: Women are powerful, our perspectives and talents must be valued. We need champions too, people who lend an ear, offer a boost, save a seat for us at the table or be open and willing to move down one. Trust me, we’re just getting started!

Sophia Carbone

Digital Services Manager

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

"I would tell my younger self to network with more people who work in the sport industry, but specifically with women in the sport industry."

Sophia Carbone

Digital Services Manager

Q: Which women have been important mentors on your professional path so far? 

SC: My older sister, Tessa, has been an extremely important mentor for me. Although she doesn’t work in the sport industry, she has shattered the glass ceiling and is an awesome example of a woman pushing the boundaries and quickly excelling and moving up within her company. She’s a Senior Principal Consultant at ACA Compliance Group and in her eight years at the company she’s been promoted four times. Her success and advice has gotten me where I am today, even though I’m still very early in my career. 

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self? 

SC: I would tell my younger self to network with more people who work in the sport industry, but specifically with women in the sport industry. People are willing to help you out and get to know you if you simply ask. I wish I had taken advantage of that a little more in college when I had the opportunity, but it’s something I’m making up for now in my professional career! 

Q: What does it mean to be part of the USL? 

SC: Being part of the USL means a lot to me. We are a company that is rapidly growing and expanding and continued to do so during a global pandemic! Not something most sport organizations can say. I work with so many talented, creative, smart individuals on a daily basis and it challenges me to grow within my role. The most important thing to me, and as corny as it may sound, is I see everyone I work with as a friend. The environment we have as an organization is truly like no other, and it’s what I miss most about being in-person with everyone in the office. I’m also extremely proud of the fact that my department is currently comprised of five team members, four of which are females! I commend [USL VP, Digital Solutions] Adam [Satz], my boss, for that. 

Nina Cusmano

Social Media Specialist

Q: What guided you toward a career in professional sports? 

NC: Growing up, soccer was my biggest passion, and I knew I wanted to be around the sport even when I was no longer playing it.   

Q: Which women have been important mentors on your professional path so far? 

NC: Two women, Betty Wells and Barbara Shafer, gave me my first internship right out of high school. It was the first entry on my professional resume and a really impactful learning experience for me. At the USL, Kelsi Steele and Lizzie Seedhouse have provided an environment for growth and trust. 

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self? 

NC: Apologize less. 

Nina Cusmano

Social Media Specialist

What guided you toward a career in professional sports?

"Growing up, soccer was my biggest passion, and I knew I wanted to be around the sport even when I was no longer playing it."

Karen Gittens

Chief Financial Officer

What would you tell other women trying to break into sports?

"Connect! There are more and more women’s organizations that encourage women engagement. "

Karen Gittens

Chief Financial Officer

Q: Which women have been important mentors on your professional path so far?   

KG: I am so fortunate to have a best friend, Suzanne Cox, in the same industry as I am. She is always there to walk through problems and issues and discuss resolutions with. She is strong, beautiful, smart, hard-working – all while having the utmost character and compassion for others. 

Q: What guided you toward a career in professional sports?   

KG: From a young age, I have always participated in sports.  I believe participating in sports develops life-long important character – teamwork, dedication, ability to deal with failures & success and commitment to your community.  I was delighted when an opportunity to work with the USL presented itself. 

Q: What would you tell other women trying to break into sports?   

KG: Connect! There are more and more women’s organizations that encourage women engagement. 

Q: What does it mean to be part of the USL?  

KG: Being part of the USL family gives me a true sense of being part of committed team.  It is so exciting to be part of the growth of soccer in North America! 

Betsy Haugh

Director, Operations - Women's Soccer

Q: Who inspires you? 

BH: So many people! Lately, and in the context of women’s soccer specifically, I’ve been very inspired by Pernille Harder and Magdalena Eriksson. They are two of the most successful female athletes in the world right now, but what truly inspires me is their desire to take their platforms created by their soccer success and use them for societal good, striving to create a world where everyone feels comfortable to be their true authentic self. Their willingness to be so open and fight for what they believe in is admirable. 

Q: What guided you toward a career in professional sports?  

BH: Sports have been a part of my life since a very young age, and it’s the same passion I found when I was younger that drove me to pursue a career in sports and continues to drive me today. There is immense power in sports to bring people happiness and be a force for societal good, and I love playing just a small part in that. 

Betsy Haugh

Director, Operations - Women's Soccer

Who inspires you?

"So many people! Lately, and in the context of women’s soccer specifically, I’ve been very inspired by Pernille Harder and Magdalena Eriksson."

Q: What does it mean to be part of the USL? 

BH: Being a part of the USL means being a part of an organization that is working to grow soccer on the field and have an equally strong impact off the field in the community and society. With both of these goals woven into the company’s DNA, there is a passion and drive within the USL that is energizing day in and day out, and I’m elated to be a part of it. 

Lizzie Seedhouse

SVP, Digital, Emerging Technology & Strategy

Why is it important to recognize and celebrate women?

"It’s critical for colleagues, companies, and industries to purposefully celebrate the accomplishment of women, in order to create further gender equity. "

Lizzie  Seedhouse

SVP, Digital, Emerging Technology & Strategy

Q: What guided you toward a career in professional sports? 

LS: Genuinely, my involvement in sports has shaped my entire life. As a kid it was an outlet and a space just to be me, as a young adult it provided me an opportunity to move to America and experience life differently, in turn that set me down a path of getting my MBA and starting a family in the U.S. to where I now work at the USL. Access and participation in sports changes lives, and I love being able to create that experience for other people by working in sports. 

Q: Why is it important to recognize and celebrate women? 

LS: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women made up 46% of the workforce in 2016, and yet in that same year women made only 79 cents to every dollar paid to a man. With these numbers in mind, it is hard to see how women are getting the gratitude or recognition they deserve organically. It’s critical for colleagues, companies, and industries to purposefully celebrate the accomplishment of women, in order to create further gender equity. 

Q: What would you tell other women trying to break into sports? 

LS: Don’t underestimate the impact of networking, relationships and connections. You still might have to work harder and smarter than everyone else, but people knowing your name and understanding your brand goes a really long way too. 

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self? 

LS: Speak up, speak out, and never use the word, ‘sorry’. 

Kelsi Steele

Sr. Manager, Social Media & Content

Q: What guided you toward a career in professional sports? 

KS: The only thing I ever wanted to do was work in sports. From the moment I could walk, my life revolved around sports. I loved the competitive edge and the adrenaline rush. I knew that when my time playing was over, I wanted my professional life to revolve around the industry I love the most. Integrating my love for the game with a career – what more could you ask for? Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to make that dream a reality. 

Q: What does it mean to be part of the USL? 

KS: I’ve truly seen myself blossom professionally and personally with the USL. I think it’s really exciting to be a part of a company that is growing with you and is constantly looking to expand in our space. It makes the learning opportunities endless and it’s hard to ask for more than that. 

Kelsi Steele

Sr. Manager, Social Media & Content

What advice would you give to your younger self?

"Learn from everyone around you. You’ll be better for it. "

Q: Which women have been important mentors on your professional path so far? 

KS: I was incredibly fortunate to develop a great relationship with my college professor, Annie Brackley. She quickly became a mentor and dear friend, and ultimately set me up with my first job out of college. Annie has been a constant source of inspiration and a true advisor in an industry that is constantly evolving. The best mentors are the ones that challenge you and encourage you to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Annie Brackley is all of those things and more, and I truly would not be where I am today in my career if it weren’t for her. 

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self? 

KS: Never stop being a student. Surround yourself with people who are smarter and more experienced than you are. Learn from everyone around you. You’ll be better for it.

Brittany Stolzenberg

Sr. Manager, Events

What does it mean to be part of the USL?

"We can accomplish so much more together as a team and I see that happening every day at work. "

Brittany Stolzenberg

Sr. Manager, Events

Q: Who inspires you? 

BS: There are many people that inspire me, but the person I always go back to is Sheryl Sandberg. She has faced adversity, several times in her life and career, but always keeps going. She has faced several big challenges and still continues to fight for women. 

Q: What guided you toward a career in professional sports? 

BS: I love planning events because of the way they make people feel. Sports and events go hand in hand as they bring together people of all walks of life for a mutual love and respect for an individual sport, in this case soccer. Soccer is such a universal sport that people around the world participate in, watch, and cheer for and getting to play a small part in bringing people together (around the United States) makes my career so rewarding. 

Q: What does it mean to be part of the USL? 

BS: Being part of the USL means being a part of something so much bigger than yourself. We can accomplish so much more together as a team and I see that happening every day at work. The team has grown since I first started in 2018, but I think we have only grown closer together at the same time. We have a great thing going! 

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