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MLS Launches MLS ADVANCE to Increase Diversity in MLS Ecosystem


Diane Scavuzzo


Proven Pathway: 42% of candidates involved in MLS ADVANCE have been hired by MLS clubs in sporting positions​

MLS ADVANCE is part of the league’s commitment started in 2020 to drive the hiring and
advancement of coaches and candidates from underrepresented groups throughout M
ajor League Soccer.

Major League Soccer announced in February the official unveiling of MLS ADVANCE … a leading initiative in the league’s strategy to increase inclusion and representation for underrepresented candidates for sporting positions across the MLS ecosystem and beyond.

MLS ADVANCE for sporting roles is an invitation-only professional development and networking series for candidates both inside and outside the MLS ecosystem who are ready to join or lead an MLS, MLS NEXT, or MLS NEXT Pro club.

The program has already had a tangible impact, with 42 percent of candidates participating in MLS ADVANCE having received job offers in sporting positions.

MLS ADVANCE launched in December 2022 with a pilot program designed to grow MLS’ global candidate pool and develop and accelerate the professional careers of underrepresented coaches and front office candidates in sporting roles.

The three key pathways of MLS ADVANCE for sporting roles include:

  1. Building a Global Diverse Candidate Database – MLS is building a global database of qualified underrepresented candidates by working with expert consultants both domestically and internationally.
  2. Networking Events with Key Decision Makers – MLS ADVANCE for sporting roles provides underrepresented job candidates and MLS decision makers with the opportunity to network and build relationships. These networking events take place year-round, including during the league’s annual Chief Soccer Officers (CSO) Meetings.
  3. Professional Development – MLS ADVANCE for sporting roles provides its participants with year-round, in-person and virtual professional development programming including upskilling technical skills, interview preparation for candidates and hiring managers, mentorship opportunities, a speaker series with MLS and industry leaders, and coaching licensing support.

As part of its stated commitment to increasing diversity and improving representation, MLS’ strategy is rooted in removing barriers to access and scaling its impact.

While MLS ADVANCE begins with a concentrated focus on sporting positions, the vision of the initiative is to expand in the coming years to business roles in the MLS ecosystem.

“With our League’s richly diverse player and fan populations, our work at MLS is to continue to ensure that our league and clubs reflect the diversity not only of MLS but our sport around the world,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

“MLS ADVANCE will identify and develop a future generation of great leaders who will take MLS to the next level and continue to make our league even stronger.”

MLS Commissioner Don Garber

MLS ADVANCE will support clubs looking to hire candidates for sporting roles while complying with the league’s updated Diversity Hiring Policy, which requires that the finalist pool for an open sporting position include two or more non-white candidates, one of whom must be Black.

“This past year, in concert with the MLS DEI Committee and stakeholders across the enterprise, we have been laser-focused and intentional on rolling out policies and developing programs that are both sustainable and impactful,” said MLS Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Sola Winley.

“The candidates participating in MLS ADVANCE are committed to making our league better and in turn the league is committed to ensuring we provide every opportunity for them to contribute at the highest level. We all share the common goal of making MLS one of the best leagues in the world. It’s a testament to having one of the best ownership groups in all of sports and to the exceptional individuals at the league office and our clubs who have been terrific partners and leaders in this effort,” said Winley.

“Participating in MLS ADVANCE has been truly life changing for me,” said Hervé Diese, who attended the launch event in December and has since been hired as an Assistant Coach at CF Montréal. “I was able to learn from some of MLS’ most important leaders, had the chance to sharpen my interviewing and networking skills and ultimately met CF Montréal Assistant Sporting Director Vassili Cremanzidis, which led to my new role with the club. The level of support, assistance and encouragement I’ve received from MLS league staff and leaders around the league over the last few months has blown me away. I look forward to staying very involved in MLS ADVANCE programming in the years to come as I continue to develop as a coach and as a professional, and one day I hope to mentor and give back to the next generation of diverse leaders in our league.”

Charlotte FC Sporting Director Zoran Krneta

“We all have the same goal — to make our teams as strong as possible on and off the field — and we know that expanding and diversifying our talent pool is key to that success,” said Charlotte FC Sporting Director Zoran Krneta. “I’m so grateful that MLS has gone above and beyond simply mandating diversity hiring standards by partnering with us and giving us tools to exceed those standards for the good of our team, our league and our sport.”

“We are grateful to not only see policies, but meaningful and valuable programs like MLS ADVANCE produced as a result of our deeply engaged partnerships and shared vision with MLS” said Quincy Amarikwa, Founder & Executive Director of Black Players for Change (BPC) and MLS ADVANCE attendee. “We are encouraged by the results we’ve seen so far to date and know that the list of qualified individuals eager to contribute to the further advancement of the league will only continue to grow. This positive shift in thought leadership continues to create tangible pathways that wouldn’t be possible without all key stakeholders involved.”

In addition to events like the programming that took place at the MLS CSO annual meeting in December, MLS ADVANCE is also working to prioritize expanding its talent pool in MLS’ other existing professional development programs for coaches. For example, since the launch of MLS ADVANCE, diversity has been prioritized in the MLS Elite Formation Coaching License Program (EFCL), which is run in partnership with the French Football Federation and is one of the most highly regarded and rigorous soccer coaching programs in the world. Nine of the 25 candidates in this year’s EFCL group are from underrepresented backgrounds, including the program’s first female candidate.

Candidates or leaders in soccer interested in participating or learning more about MLS ADVANCE should reach out to MLSADVANCE@mlssoccer.com.

MLS ADVANCE is one of the many strides MLS has made since it made a series of commitments to increase inclusion and representation in 2020. In the past few years, MLS has:

  • Increased player and coaching diversity – in 2023, 57 percent of the league’s players are Black or Hispanic (compared to 36 percent in 2007); 34 percent of the league’s first-team head coaches are Black or Hispanic (compared to 7 percent in 2007). Between August 2022 and November 2022, hiring of Black candidates increased by 120 percent.
  • Appointed Sola Winley, Executive Vice President, Commissioner’s Office & Chief Diversity Officer in 2021. Since his appointment two years ago, Winley has partnered with colleagues at the league office, owners and clubs to reposition DEI as a business imperative and core operating principle.
  • Updated and enhanced the league’s Diversity Hiring Policy in 2021 by ensuring the finalist pool for an open sporting position includes two or more non-white candidates, one of whom must be Black. The policy also includes rules surrounding the Diversity Policy Portal (DPP), into which clubs must submit all details of vacant sporting positions and their interview process. Teams that fail to follow the policy can be fined up to $100,000. Since the policy change was made:
    • 51 percent of MLS sporting roles filled in the first year of updated policy were filled by underrepresented candidates
    • 64 percent of MLS NEXT Pro sporting roles filled in the first two months of updated policy were filled by underrepresented candidates
    • Updated policy has led to a database of over 300 underrepresented candidates
    • Updated policy has led to over 200 underrepresented candidates interviewed as finalists for roles
  • Partnered with the National Black Bank Foundation in 2022, leveraging a historic $25 million loan from a syndicate of Black banks, marking the first time any sports league has participated in a major commercial transaction exclusively with Black banks. Since the announcement a year ago, the partnership has had a tangible impact and is part of the league’s strategy to close the racial wealth gap. This first of its kind commercial transaction has led to more opportunities for NBBF and Black Banks, including but not limited to:
    • Increased volume to local Black community banks (over $10M to date)
    • Approximately $45M in earned media across strategic partnerships
    • Additional sports business opportunities, including financing arena construction of the new Baltimore Arena
    • Presentation at MLS Annual Finance Meeting with club CFOs
    • Participation in national conferences including, the Milken Institute Global Conference and Aspen Institute
    • Participation in the Black Sports Business Symposium and Pro Sports Assembly with MLS CFO Sean Prendergast
  • Launched MLS NEXT WellbeingNSoccer Culture Coordinators in partnership with the Sanneh Foundation, an immersive two-day coaching education program that supplies academy coaches and staff with tools to have informed conversations around real-world scenarios involving discriminatory behavior for the 13,000 elite players, coaches and parents within the MLS NEXT ecosystem. Coordinators that complete the program then deliver trainings to their Academy staff, players and parents. Since 2022, 5000+ Academy staff, players and parents have been trained by the first Culture Coordinators class.
  • Created MLS All-Star Hometown Heroes Showcase a new signature program at the MLS All-Star Game to highlight and amplify innovative diverse impact leaders positively improving lives and driving change in MLS All-Star markets.

Headquartered in New York City, Major League Soccer — celebrating its 28th season in 2023 — features 29 clubs throughout the United States and Canada, including 2023 expansion team St. Louis CITY SC. Starting on February 1, 2023, all MLS, Leagues Cup, and select MLS NEXT Pro and MLS NEXT matches can be watched through MLS Season Pass, available on the Apple TV app on Apple devices, smart TVs, streaming devices, set-top boxes, and game consoles, and the web at tv.apple.com.

Source: Press Release

The post MLS Launches MLS ADVANCE to Increase Diversity in MLS Ecosystem appeared first on SoccerToday.

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