Meet Donna, a powerhouse in sports, media, and nonprofits, making a significant impact on empowering women and girls through her involvement in sports. Her journey unfolds, shedding light on the crucial role of sports and her dedicated efforts in fostering empowerment. Join us in a captivating chat with Donna as Deepa Kartha, the CEO of Journyz SuperApp and SheSight’s friend and advisor, explores the insights behind Donna’s inspiring career and the meaningful causes she supports.
Donna unfolded her enlivening journey, with stories taking center stage. For her, stories aren’t just narratives; they’re the driving force behind her work at Generation W, a nonprofit she holds dear.
Donna’s early days as an athlete were marked by a deep love for sports, even when it wasn’t the norm for girls to opt for sports as a career. Her bold stance—declaring her love and pursuing her passion—became the foundation of a journey built on conviction and confidence. Now, Donna channels that spirit into encouraging young women to break barriers and embrace sports, transcending cultural boundaries.
Making history as the first professional woman athlete is a proud achievement for Donna. Transitioning into the business world, her roles in global media for the PGA Tour and later as the WNBA commissioner showcased her prowess.
Insights gained during her WNBA tenure were eye-opening, shaping Donna’s perspective on how society views women and how women perceive themselves. This realization fueled her drive to make a difference, leading to the creation of Generation W—a nonprofit dedicated to educating, inspiring, and connecting women.
Donna’s commitment to creating a space where stories are shared, and women uplift one another is palpable in Generation W’s ethos. The addition of Generation Wow, focusing on mentorship and leadership for teen girls, adds depth to her impactful work.
As Donna shared her journey, it became evident that her passion extends beyond personal success; it’s about empowering the next generation of women. For Donna, it’s not just about breaking barriers but providing a platform for empowerment and growth. In her envisioned world, young women are encouraged to pursue their passions without being confined by societal expectations. Donna’s story isn’t hers alone; it’s an invitation for others to embark on their journeys with the same spirit of conviction and courage.
Deepa: Donna. It’s clear that your journey has been fueled by a passion for sports and a dedication to empowering women. Can you share more about your early experiences as a woman athlete?
Donna Orender: Absolutely, my early days as a woman athlete played a crucial role in shaping who I am today. I’ve always had a deep love for playing sports, even when it wasn’t widely accepted for girls. Standing up and declaring, “I’m going to do what I love” wasn’t the norm back then, but that spirit helped me build the conviction and confidence that have guided me through life.
Taking my passion to the collegiate level and later becoming the first woman to play professionally were significant milestones. It wasn’t just about personal achievement; it was about breaking barriers and challenging stereotypes. Transitioning into the business world, I had the privilege of working with esteemed organizations like the PGA Tour, where my contributions to global media were acknowledged.
Becoming the commissioner of the WNBA marked a new chapter in my journey. This experience opened my eyes to the complex perceptions surrounding women in society, motivating me to make a positive impact. Thus, the inception of Generation W, a not-for-profit dedicated to educating, inspiring, and connecting women.
As time progressed, our efforts expanded to include Generation Wow, focusing on mentorship and leadership for teen girls. I strongly believe in the importance of young women pursuing their passions, a message I carry across all aspects of my work. Through Generation W and Generation Wow, my goal is to create a world where women and girls feel supported, inspired, and empowered to embrace their unique journeys.
Deepa: Your journey from sports to business is remarkable, Donna. How did you navigate the challenges, especially considering the gender dynamics in the sports industry?
Donna Orender: Entering the sports media scene was like stepping into a boys’ club. Picture me as the only senior woman in golf – pretty unfamiliar, right? Navigating that uncharted territory had its share of challenges. Back then, this boys’ club culture was everywhere, and fitting in meant this delicate dance between blending in and staying true to myself.
Here’s the thing – full-on conformity wasn’t the answer. I found my way by sticking to authenticity. Trying to assert my presence while holding onto who I am in a field dominated by men? Tricky but worth it.
As the lone senior woman, proving my worth was a constant thing. My game plan was simple – excel in my current role before even thinking about the next one. This advice, born from tackling male-dominated fields, is all about showing your skills to break those barriers.
Back in the early days, credibility was everything. Doing my job exceptionally well wasn’t just about the now; it was laying the groundwork for future recognition. This nugget of wisdom isn’t just for women – it’s a timeless rule. Excelling in your current gig is the secret sauce for moving up the career ladder. Times have changed, and women are owning their spaces – but the core idea of being excellent in your role stays golden, no matter who you are.
Deepa: That’s valuable advice, Donna. Moving forward, can you share your experiences working with the PGA Tour and later transitioning to the WNBA? How did you contribute to cultural changes in these environments?
Donna Orender: Being with the PGA Tour during its big growth spurt was really exciting. The challenge? Introducing new stuff to an industry not used to being in the spotlight. It was like navigating through uncharted waters and changing how people saw things.
Moving from the PGA Tour to the WNBA was a huge shift. It exposed a landscape filled with biases, homophobia, racism, and sexism. All those challenges lit a fire in me to make a difference and change how the sports industry works. Fixing these issues became a mission.
At the start, the WNBA needed to prove that women’s sports could make money. It meant a whole strategy, from getting more people in the stands to getting sponsorships and selling gear. The goal? Change how people saw women’s sports, making it not just liked but also a good investment.
Breaking down biases and stereotypes was a journey with many parts. We had to challenge what people thought, show them the truth, and highlight how skilled and competitive women are in sports. As we moved along, we saw things change slowly but surely. More people watched, more sponsors came in, and more gear got sold.
The WNBA journey wasn’t just about the games; it changed how people see women in sports. We proved that supporting women’s sports wasn’t just the right thing to do; it was also a smart financial move. The success of the WNBA showed that, with the right plan and commitment, women’s sports could do really well and bring a lot to the sports industry.
Deepa: It’s fascinating to see how you influenced positive change in the sports industry. Can you elaborate on your efforts to promote women in sports and your involvement with Generation W and Generation Wow?
Donna Orender: After my time in the WNBA, I decided to make a real difference by starting Generation W. It’s a nonprofit all about helping and connecting women. I saw the need to lift women and girls up, so I also started Generation Wow, a program just for teen girls.
At Generation Wow, we’re not just about talking – we’re about doing things. We set up clubs and a curriculum called Wowsdom. It’s all about sending out positive and empowering messages and shaping the minds of these young girls to be strong and confident leaders.
The aim is simple but powerful: give chances and build up vibrant, fair communities. And you know what? It’s working. We didn’t want to keep this goodness to ourselves, so we spread these initiatives all across the country. The response has been amazing, and we’ve even got some attention from folks internationally who want to get involved.
We believe that by supporting and uplifting women and girls, we’re setting off a chain reaction of empowerment that reaches far beyond borders. That’s the heart of what we’re doing with Generation W and Wow, and the journey has been incredible so far.
Deepa: Your commitment to empowering women is commendable, Donna Orender. What are your current focus areas, and how do you balance your various roles and responsibilities?
Donna Orender: Right now, I’m working on something exciting – a new brand that focuses on women and how they’re making a difference in the world. It’s a project that really means a lot to me because it’s all about highlighting and celebrating the amazing stories of women and their impact on our culture.
I’m also involved with the World Surf League, and it brings me so much joy. It’s not just about the competition; it’s being part of a community that loves surfing. The energy is contagious, and the friendships among surf enthusiasts are really special.
Another important thing for me is the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Cancer is tough, and being part of initiatives like the V Foundation lets me contribute to the fight against it. It’s about supporting research, spreading awareness, and standing with those going through the challenges of cancer.
Then there’s Recopy USA, a fantastic initiative that combines my love for sports with promoting Jewish pride. Sports have a way of bringing people together, and Recopy USA blends sports with celebrating Jewish identity. It’s about creating a space where people can be both athletes and proudly embrace their cultural heritage.
Whether I’m working on my new brand, riding the waves with the World Surf League, supporting cancer research with the V Foundation, or promoting Jewish pride through Recopy USA, each of these things is driven by a shared passion for making a positive impact. It’s not just about what I do; it’s about the collective positive change that these initiatives can bring about.
As we conclude this captivating feature, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to Donna for generously sharing the intricate chapters of her remarkable journey. Donna’s commitment to empowering women and girls, from her groundbreaking achievements in sports and media to the impactful initiatives of Generation W and Wow, resonates as an inspiring call to action. SheSight is honored to have been a platform to illuminate Donna’s transformative experiences, and we look forward to witnessing the continued impact of her endeavors. Thank you, Donna Orender, for being a beacon of empowerment, resilience, and unwavering dedication.