The NFL may not seem the epicenter of women in leadership, but Anne Doepner has a career highlighting – if not negotiating – the work done to change that impression. Doepner has spent 17 years with the Minnesota Vikings, the last four serving as the team’s senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Doepner leads the team’s diversity and inclusion strategy, implementing employee engagement, inclusion and learning initiatives, a role that evolved for her as she accepted leadership opportunities and challenges with the team.
In her previous role as the Vikings’ director of football administration, she has addressed issues ranging from salary-cap management and compliance with the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement to rookie contracts to player budgets.
As keynote speaker for the 7th annual Susan J. McGregor Memorial on Women’s Leadership, Doepner discussed her experiences and perspectives on women’s leadership in athletics, and milestones in her careeer.
The annual event is a signature event for the College of Business, part of an endowment series – the endowed lectureship fund, professional development fund, and scholarship fund that honors Susan J. McGregor, ‘85 and her family after McGregor passed away. McGregor was a CPA, and a general manager at Microsoft before her life was cut short by cancer.
Doepner first acknowledged the legacy that Susan McGregor left: “I am deeply honored in playing a small part in her mission in advancing women,” Doepner said.
In describing her work in football, surrounded by famous people and countless exciting situations, Doepner acknowledged that the glamorous elements can give the wrong impression. More in line with her day-to-day years with the Vikings, and as a working parent, Doepner says that she spent a great deal of energy trying to do it all, not be noticed as different.
“I was trying to blend into the environment that was created,” she said. “When really it should be the environment that should be adaptable to whatever the people in the environment need from it. And that is at the root of all diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.”
Doepner recalled not long after the promotion to her director role, at an NFL League meeting just when she was starting to feel comfortable with her seat at the table, a GM from another team shared his annoyance with her promotion. Now, he said, a woman on his team wanted a similar opportunity. Fortunately, her colleagues quickly came to her defense.
“I feel like if I had not had that show of allyship in the moment – not afterwards – or even addressing him [the GM] alone, afterwards. The fact that they stood up for me in the moment, I think saved my career.”
She also said she spent years trying to hide the fact that she started with the Vikings as an executive assistant.
Doepner, as a staunch advocate for women’s career and professional development, embodies the spirit and tenacity of McGregor to be intentional about inclusive excellence and advancing women in leadership.
“Believe me, the more space you take up, the more space it creates for other women,” Doepner said adding that she’d like these other women to see their pathway into sports leadership more quickly and clearly than she did.
She points out that her McGregor address, coming one day after “National Women and Girls in Sports Day,” is just a few more days prior to Super Bowl 2023 when Philadelphia Eagles assistant coach, Autumn Lockwood, will be on the field as the first Black woman to coach at the championship, getting all women, whether refs or trainers or administrators, half the distance to the goal line.
Watch the event now and, as College of Business’ Krista Burke, instructor of “Creativity, Culture and the Workplace,” suggests, stay for the Q&A after the talk!