University of Virginia’s Carla Williams became the first female African American athletic director at a Power Five conference institution when she was hired by the school in 2017.
Williams stopped by the NETLIFE podcast with Dawn Staley this week to talk about her boundary-breaking appointment and what she hopes it means for the future of college athletics.
“Me knowing that I was the first Black female to be an athletic director at this level, I obviously knew it when I was dreaming about being an athletic director,” Williams says. “There was no one else that I could look to and say, ‘That’s what I wanted to do.’ So I knew I would be the first when it happened.”
Williams reveals that shattering a glass ceiling has been both a blessing and a burden, an internal conflict Staley has also shared. Being the first Black woman in her role comes with a significant amount of pressure.
“It is an awesome blessing to be in this position because you can chart a path for others to follow … and I get to mentor a lot of people of color, a lot of women, and I get great satisfaction in that,” Williams says.
“There is a burden, too. There is a burden to being on that pedestal, in that spotlight, and it’s a burden that not many of my peers … share. If you fail, it’s a setback for a lot of people, which makes success that much more important.”
Since Williams’ hiring, Candice Storey Lee has been named the athletic director at Vanderbilt University and Nina King has been appointed to the position at Duke University.
“I was the only one for a while there, and I was starting to get a little discouraged by it. And then Vanderbilt thankfully hired Candice, who was long prepared to be in that job, in that position,” Williams says. “Same thing with Nina — very prepared to be in this role and has got a great pedigree.”
While Williams says she is “so thankful there are more and more presidents and chancellors and universities hiring people who look like me,” she also believes there is more work to be done.
“There are plenty of Black women working in senior positions in athletic departments that are well-qualified to be athletic directors,” she says. “They need opportunities.”
Listen to the full episode of NETLIFE for more from Williams on breaking barriers, NIL and navigating unprecedented times as an athletic director.