Meet Jesse Lovejoy, one of the speakers and executive mentors at our Women’s Leadership Summit on March 19.

Welcome to the first installment of our Women’s Leadership Speaker Series, where we’re introducing you to some of the inspiring leaders who will be sharing their passion with us on March 19. First up is Jesse Lovejoy, who is director of 49ers EDU and the 49ers Museum (yes, those San Francisco 49ers). 

We know what you’re thinking, why would we feature a man as the first subject in our speaker series for a women’s summit? We’ll tell you why. Jesse’s work with the 49ers speaks to everything we care about here at Play Like a Girl—and he is our founder and CEO, Dr. Kim’s mentor. Plus, it’s easy to be inspired by the career journey that led Jesse to this important work which has included numerous partnerships with Play Like a Girl in recent years. 

Since 2014, 49ers EDU has leveraged football as a platform for teaching lessons in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) to over 300,000 Bay Area students. The program also encourages physical activity while teaching important skills through the values of teamwork. Kids flex their engineering muscles by designing their own helmets in the state-of-the-art tech wonderland that is the 49ers Education Center. They get schooled in the laws of physics on the field of Levi Stadium, watching what happens when they kick or throw a football at different angles. Oh, and did we mention these programs are completely free of charge for every single student?

Jesse will be a speaker at our Women’s Leadership Summit—and is featured in our Executive Auction. He is one of many executives, investors, elite athletes and entertainers who will be donating their time to mentor summit attendees who bid in the auction. We hope you’ll be just as inspired as we are by his passion for leveraging sports to ignite the spark for STEM and the career journey that brought him to where he is today.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: Looking back on your career so far, what is one of the biggest challenges you faced, and how did you overcome it? 

JESSE: It was, without a doubt, changing my career trajectory from one without purpose to something that has meaning. I quit a career that I was good at and I left an industry I was succeeding in, and I started over. The risk was huge, but I overcame it by believing in the power of doing something that mattered. I also had the support of my wife and family who encouraged me to believe in myself and what I could do. All of that, plus a lot of hard work and dedication to the people around me, brought me to where I am today.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: You’ll be speaking at the Women’s Leadership Summit about the important role male allies play. What do you believe is lacking in your industry in terms of opportunities for women? And what do you see as the way forward?

JESSE: Well, if you’re talking about pro sports you can pick a million different verticals in which representation for women is woeful. If you are talking about education or community relations in sports, it’s better but there’s still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to executive leadership positions. Across the board, the sports industry is categorically lacking in virtually every way when it comes to opportunities of merit for women to contribute and succeed.

I guess the place I’d start is to try to reframe the discussion a bit from one that is focused on equity (solely) to one that also articulates the significant business benefit and value that comes with a more balanced organization from a gender standpoint.

Let me be clear: Achieving gender and pay equity in the workplace is MASSIVELY important on its own. That said, there are also scores of studies that speak to how much an industry, business or department stands to gain (financially, operationally, culturally) from having an office that accurately reflects our society and has women in positions of leadership and value within an organization.

If we can diversify the discussion and the way this issue sits in the minds of decisionmakers at companies, we may start to see greater success short- and long-term. 

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

JESSE: Keena Turner, a 4x Super Bowl champ and the man who led the charge in hiring me for my position with the 49ers, told me, “You are going to have a lot of bosses.” That resonated in a very literal sense when I joined the 49ers. But I quickly realized what he was actually trying to tell me: Be of service to everyone—and not yourself—and you will ultimately be successful and build the kind of relationships that you want in your business and personal life.”

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: If you could, what career advice would you give to your younger self?

JESSE: That’s easy: Be kind to everyone. Find purpose in your work. Believe in yourself.

Follow Jesse on Twitter to keep up with the good work he’s doing at 49ers EDU. And don’t forget to secure your spot for the “New Rules for a New World” Women’s Leadership Summit on March 19. Proceeds underwrite program scholarships for girls in need.