NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The NFL is trying to shed its image as a boy’s club.
Luckily, there are hundreds of women interested in working for the league.
As part of its effort to hire more women, the NFL recently hosted a Women’s Careers in Football Forum in Orlando, Florida.
“The mindset that women don’t belong at all — obviously, that’s changing,” said Allyson Hamlin, one of the more than 200 women who attended the forum. “But, for them to change their minds, they have to know us. They might think, or assume, that we don’t know [football] but then they see it and cannot deny it.”
Hamlin’s day job is a homicide detective, but in her spare time she plays quarterback and coaches women’s amateur tackle football. Her dream is to work in the NFL.
“I would love to be coaching,” Hamlin said. “I understand that there’s a process, but I think that that’s definitely realistic.”
The forum was the brainchild of Samantha Rapoport, the NFL’s director of football development.
Rapoport, who played tackle football herself, said it was a no-brainer to introduce women who already play and know the sport to NFL personnel. The forum featured Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, Atlanta Falcons assistant GM Scott Pioli and Kathryn Smith, the NFL’s first full-time female coach, who most recently worked for the Buffalo Bills.
“I understood the struggle that we love the game as much as anyone and we understand the game better than anyone so, why are we a little disenfranchised from the football world?” Rapoport said.
The forum is her way of bringing other women into the fold.
“I’ve already spoken to several of the executives who said, ‘You know that person really impressed me and I want you to share our contact information.’ That is very powerful,'” she said. “That is access that women on the street and men on the street don’t get.”
Rapoport first landed at the NFL in 2003, when she says she “clawed” her way into an internship.
“I had no connections, I was from Canada, I knew I needed to get into the league office though, so I sent my resume with a football,” Rapoport said. “On the football I wrote, ‘What other quarterback could accurately deliver a pass 386 miles?'”
Stephanie Balochko, a coaching intern with the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, found the forum reassuring.
“We just need to do our job, work hard. You’re going to have to start off at the bottom,” Balochko said. “You’re going to have to start off doing all that little stuff, but that little stuff doesn’t go unnoticed.”
In Balochko’s case, her work got noticed right away. She knew she was on the right track when a Steelers player told her her during a preseason game that he appreciated her coaching and hoped she’d stay through the regular season.
“Right now I think my dream job would just be a positions coach,” Balochko said.
Men currently make up nearly 70% of the NFL’s management staff. That’s why the NFL expanded the Rooney Rule, which encourages minority hires, to include female hires at the executive level.
The ranks of women are even slimmer in operations roles; the NFL currently has one female referee and no full-time coaches or scouts.
“I think the league is doing a lot to obviously increase those roles, but I think also it’s important to show that there are women,” Kathryn Smith said. “Women are doing this. Women can do this. It’s not such an anomaly.”