The Irsay family, collectively, thinks about this a lot: How can the Colts support women in football by recognizing, empowering and supporting the different experiences and perspectives those women bring to the team?
So as the Colts have hired women – like physical therapist MacKenzie Scovill, dietician Kirsten Gregurich and scouting assistant Kasia Omilian, in addition to those who come through a training internship program – to work in football, the Irsay family is aiming to do much more than just check a box. They're working to provide a workplace setting where those talented, important members of the team can thrive.
And there's a big difference between just hiring women and actually supporting them.
"If we don't support it, it's kind of like if you go out and plant a bunch of seeds, but you just throw them around and you don't prepare," Colts Owner/Vice Chair Carlie Irsay-Gordon said. "Versus if you prep the beds and fertilize the soil and make sure you enrich it and then you plant the seeds and make sure you water them."
Irsay-Gordon remembered having to plan her time on the football side of the Colts' facility around how long it would take her to get to the nearest bathroom – which wasn't particularly close. That's changed now. And as the Colts continue to bring in accomplished, talented women into a traditionally male-dominated space, it's a focus on those differences and details that the organization hopes will continue to push change forward.
"That's kind of the blend — when you're female, you're like, I don't want special treatment, I just want to be able to work in an environment and not asking for more than what men get," Irsay-Gordon said. "But when you're taking difference into account, you're not pretending like oh, we don't have any differences. When you're accounting for them and trying to say okay, how do we make it so women can work here and have access to things they need to be able to feel productive and to not have their day interrupted."
Added Irsay-Gordon: "Let's not pretend that differences don't exist. Let's say, wow, difference is really cool because it's additive to the way we run our business."
And the more women who are hired and supported in football, the more other women can follow those paths. Having representation matters, and for the Colts, that starts at the top of the organization with Irsay-Gordon, Jackson and Casey Foyt as Vice Chair/Owners.
"There's been a lot of work done but obviously there's still a lot of work ahead of us, but I'm proud to see the changes since I was a little girl to now — I would've never seen a female on the football operations side," Colts Owner/Vice Chair Kalen Jackson said. "That wasn't something that I ever saw when I was younger. So I think, like a lot of things, being able to see and recognize yourself in someone else, it starts that interest in a field or gives you even the thought that's a possibility for you in your life.
"So I think the more females that are represented, whether it be in scouting or now we're seeing in coaching, the better for young girls to be able to aspire to something that they see is real and tangible and is actually being lived out in real time now.
"... The more and more we see success, the more, hopefully, someday we'll be talking about this as a thing of the past. And it'll just be, you know, normal."
As Irsay-Gordon sees it, change is the one thing that's guaranteed. Eventually having women as coaches, trainers, scouts, etc. will be normal. And while football is a male-dominated sport, that does not mean it's an exclusively male sport.
"That's the one piece I'm still trying to reconcile is in our sport, it really is all men, they're the ones personifying the team out of the field that everyone sees," Irsay-Gordon said. "But I still don't think that means — I don't just think of the team like that. I think if we think of the team more holistically, it's women like Kirsten or Kasia, women can still be part of that team and I think actually make it better. But what we have to culturally be ready to receive and it has to be authentic."
These discussions go beyond the walls of the Colts' facility on 56th Street, too. For example: The team has added multiple lactation stations and suites for nursing mothers to access on gameday, allowing fans a clean, convenient, private space to breastfeed or pump during games.
The better the environment for women in football – whether they're staff or fans – the better the sport is. And the Irsay family will continue to help lead that push.
"We hope to continue this positive shift and change in terms of female involvement," Jackson said. "And I think to see the support of it at the league level and through all teams as well is really positive and only shines such a hopeful light on what the future holds for females in the NFL."