Next Woman Up: Amina Edwards, chief of staff of the Washington Football Team

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Women are rising up the ranks throughout professional football, earning positions of power in a space that for too long was ruled almost exclusively by men. We're seeing more and more women breaking barriers in the sport, but what are the stories beyond the headlines? Who are the women shaping and influencing the NFL today? Answering those questions is the aim of the Next Woman Up series. While the conversational Q&As are edited and condensed for clarity, this is a forum for impactful women to share experiences in their own words. Without further ado, we introduce:

Amina Edwards, Washington Football Team

Position: Chief of Staff

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I know you're relatively new to the NFL, so how did you get your start in a career in football?

I took a circuitous route to the NFL. I never worked for a team before, but sports have always been a part of my life. I graduated from business school last spring and was actually planning to take another job. Then I got a call -- out of the blue -- from (Washington team president) Jason (Wright) saying, "I'm starting a new job on Monday. I'm going to be the president of the Washington Football Team, and I'm looking for a chief of staff. Would you be interested in joining me?" After I picked my jaw up off the floor and started talking to him about his vision for the team, it was such a no-brainer. I thought, I need to take this role.

What a turn of events! Did you have a working relationship with Jason prior to that phone call?

Jason was my very first boss out of college when I was 22. We worked at (McKinsey & Company) together, and he's continued to be a mentor for me throughout my career professionally, both as a sounding board and a great coach. He's somebody who's really invested in me and pushed me to take bigger roles and try new things. I'm really lucky that I get a second chance to work with him here.

So when you took this role in September of 2020, what were some of the things you wanted to accomplish?

I've always been excited about building organizations and teams, so this felt like such an exciting opportunity to do that across so many different dimensions. There's a culture change. We're rebranding the team. We're building a new stadium. So many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that this role represented, and that's one of the reasons why it was so easy for me to say yes to this job.

I work across the top team on strategy and business planning. The best way for me to describe my role is, it's my job to help Jason and the top team actually get work done. Sometimes that looks like air traffic control or managing some of our integrated projects, and other times, it's just being a sounding board for them so they can talk through an idea and help make it happen. I really do feel like I have the coolest job in the world, because I get to sort of see the whole business and learn how all the different pieces fit together.

Let's break that up a little bit. When it comes to the cultural side of the organization, there have been a lot of changes in Washington over the last year or so. What were some changes you wanted to implement when you arrived? And what changes have you seen within the last year, if any?

There's been a ton of change. My goal when I joined this team was to help build the kind of organization where everyone felt valued and respected and could do their best work. That's what all of us want out of a culture and organization. I think we've been able to build that kind of community despite the challenges of having to start that work virtually. Obviously, that's been a challenge for everyone, but especially in a time of transformation, we had to be really deliberate about how we were building relationships and building a culture, because it's just a little bit harder when you're behind a computer screen.

How do you think building a team remotely will translate when you're all back together in person?

Starting a new job remotely was challenging. Trying to build a team -- we hired probably seven to eight members of our senior team remotely -- I think that we had to think differently about how we built it. … And I think it means we really put in the groundwork. It's also made us think about work-life balance more deliberately and how we can maximize the time we're in office, while also making sure our team and staff has life outside of work and making sure we respect that, too. I think it's made us all have a reckoning around in-person work and what that looks like and how we build culture in a hybrid environment.

My goal when I joined this team was to help build the kind of organization where everyone felt valued and respected and could do their best work. Amina Edwards

Let's talk a bit about the rebrand, which I assume was a huge undertaking for the organization. What did that process look like?

We're still in the middle of it, like all of these projects, but the rebrand was a great project for me to get introduced to the world of football, because I got to hear so much from our fans. Our fans are so passionate about the rebrand and, in particular, the name change. We received 40,000 pieces of fan mail and fan submissions, so I really got to learn about the history of the team. All of the memories that our fans have of this organization and what they want to see carried into the future ... It was a really fun way to get to know our fans and our broader community.

You mentioned Jason has been a mentor for you. Can you cite any advice he or other mentors have given you along the way that has really made an impact on your career?

I have been so lucky to have a variety of mentors throughout my career. I think Jason really cares about hiring people who want to be mentors and invest in their teams, and I've been a beneficiary of that. As far as specific advice and support he's given me, Jason is really great about pushing me to take on new challenges and being completely supportive of me taking risks and trying new things. To have that unconditional supporter and somebody who goes out of his way to open doors is a real gift. That's something I hope to pay forward for my team as well.

Along those lines, what advice do you have for other females interested in a career in the NFL?

First of all, do it. We are so lucky that we get to work in an industry that creates so much joy for people. That feels like a gift and a blessing every day. I'd also say, at least in my experience, that your path to your dream job doesn't have to be linear. It doesn't even have to go through sports. I feel like I have a ton of expertise from outside the world of sports that has been really relevant to how I think about my work here in ways that I couldn't even have imagined. In summary, don't worry if your path isn't linear. Sometimes doors open that you never anticipated, and the shortest path to a dream job may not be a straight line.

So, what is next for you?

There's a lot that I'm excited about for our team. One thing that I'm personally excited about is our team becoming a magnet for diverse talent. I think we have a real opportunity to build the kind of organization that attracts, develops and retains exceptional leaders, particularly people who might not look like a traditional front office, and I'm excited about that. I'm excited to become a team that is known for being a great place to work no matter what your background is, no matter what your experience is, and the kind of place that invests in our team. That's something that I think about a lot, and that I'm excited to build here.

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