As the door closes on Women’s History Month, the subject of opening doors was on everyone’s mind at the Mavericks’ fifth edition of The HUDDLE.

Assistant coach Jenny Boucek hit on the most important point in the hourlong open dialogue that included local community leaders, Mavs vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley and CEO Cynt Marshall.

“We can’t sometimes open the door into the men’s places,” said Boucek. “They have to open it and invite us in. And they won’t invite us in if we don’t have relationships. It’s not an ‘either/or,’ a ‘them and us.’ It is a ‘we.’ Diversity brings out the best in all of us.”

Relationships. As in, we’re all in this together and teams almost always run better when an assortment of philosophies and strategies are shared.

Marshall moderated the event, which was live-streamed from Mavericks’ headquarters and featured an esteemed panel: founder/editor-in-chief of Channing Beumer, president of WISE DFW Katie Wegener and co-founder/CEO of POWERHANDZ Inc. Danyell Surrency-Jones joined Boucek, Finley and Marshall.

The theme, Win With Women, centered on the opportunities and in some cases, lack thereof, for women at all levels of employment, but particular in executive positions.

The HUDDLE is a monthly courageous conversation series as part of the Mavs Take ACTION! Plan that launched in June to address social justice and racial inequities in the Dallas area. It’s geared to promote dialogue about important and, often, sensitive issues.

On Tuesday, each panelist told stories of successes and failures of the past. And of how the failures helped produce some of their greatest moments.

Marshall said it took a life-threatening moment to lead her to a new level of leadership skills.

“When I ended up being president of AT&T in North Carolina, I worked like a crazy woman and ignored my health,” she said. “I was totally out of balance. And I ended up with cancer.

“People said it was genetics, it would have happened anyway. I ignored so many signs, it wouldn’t have gotten to that point. I can admit that now. That was a major ‘Aha’ moment for me.”

As Beumer said: “We typically ignore the signs and we don’t trust our gut.”

She then related a story about finally having the courage to walk away from a relationship with her fiancé at the time. She learned never to let fear undermine a mission.

And, of course, it’s not always easy to press on when odds work against you, no matter who you are.

“We’ve seen a lot of progress,” said Wegener. “When we look at the entry-level positions, it is 50-50 in our industry in a lot of cases with men and women. But where we’re seeing such a steep fallout is when we get to that senior level, when we look at that VP and above. Then it is four-to-one men to women in that position.”

Finley said that situations like that can only be rectified one way.

And it goes back to the relationships that Boucek mentioned.

“The respect factor,” Finley said. “Men have to respect women, especially in a male-dominated environment. Really, 100 percent of these women are not just getting hired because they’re women. They bring something to the table.

“As a team, (having them), you feel a better chance to make your organization better. So I think that’s the most important thing for men. Don’t just give them a seat at the table, but let them eat as well.”

And it’s a process. Just as becoming a better 3-point shooter on the court requires a dedication to the mechanics of shooting and repetition of a proper shooting form, making a workplace more inclusive and equal is more than just wanting to do so.

You have to be willing to do so.

“I don’t know if coach (Boucek) has ever noticed this, but I never call you Jenny around the players,” Finley said. “I’ve always referred to you as coach. I always say, ‘hi coach.’

“I’ve done this because I want the younger guys coming in, who probably have never had a female a coach, to see it from our perspective. I’m greeting you as coach as a sign of respect. So they should do the same. They don’t know to call you coach or Jenny or what. I think overall that’s what we need to embrace as a male-dominated (business).”

That was a lot like Boucek’s early career as a coach. She was a WNBA player in the first year of the league. But a career-ending injury derailed her. She was planning on redirecting her path and going to medical school.

But then, she saw things in her brief time as a player at WNBA games that convinced her that the right path for her wasn’t in the medical field.

She had seen young girls in the stands watching WNBA games and knew she wanted to be part of it. Instead of mothers, teachers and nurses – all hugely important jobs – those girls saw professional athletes and knew that anything was possible. Being a fireman or a doctor or a pro athlete is within their reach.

“You don’t get to be in a men’s environment without relationships with men,” Boucek said. “I could not be more grateful for a) the women in my life that have modeled for me living your dreams, not being afraid to be who you are and not feeling like you have to shrink back.

“But really, I have a lot of gratitude for the men that I’ve crossed paths with. You never know who you’re going to meet. (The WNBA) was not about basketball.

“Ron Rothstein was coaching the Cleveland (Cavaliers) when I was playing. He used to come watch our practices and games. I didn’t know that. Never met the man. A couple years later, I decided to get into coaching and Pat Riley hires him to coach the (LA) women’s team. And he said, where’s that Boucek kid. He picked up the phone and called some of his NBA buddies and found out I’d just got into coaching, hired me basically on the spot.

“He taught me everything I know about NBA basketball. He poured into me NBA language, knowledge, culture, leadership. That was 2000. And now, I have many friends across the NBA, including Rick Carlisle. All these coaches befriended me, let me come to training camps because of Ron. And then, now I get a call to start coaching in the NBA. But it’s the relationship with the men that opened the door.”

It truly is a “we,” not a them and us.

“You need the women and the men,” Marshall said. “I talk about that all the time. We need the sisters and the brothers. We can open doors for each other. But especially in a traditionally male-dominated industry, you need those men to pour into you and teach you the ropes.”

The group finished their deep dive into “Win With Women” by coming up with one word that describes their experiences along the way, along with an explanation of what they hope to pass along.

“Blessed,” said Finley, “because coming where I came from, to be able to sit around the table with these professionals, wow, I’ve come a long way.”

He added that mentoring others about that blessing is tops on his priority list in 2021.

Said Wegener: “Thankful. And I want to allow myself to accept help. It’s the teamwork that makes the dream work.”

And, finally, Boucek said her word to live by is: “Passion. I love words and I studied that word and passion comes from the Latin word ‘pati,’ which means to suffer or to endure.

“Those passions often come from a painful experience that we’ve had. And now because we’ve come through that, we become passionate about helping other people who are going through that or preventing other people from having to go through that or if you’re going through that knowing you’re not alone.”

Strong words to carry forward during these unpredictable times.

Twitter: @ESefko

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