As the U.S. Open winds down in Queens, New York, the dearth of color on the courts hasn’t gone unnoticed by watchers of the sport. Of the most recognizable African American faces, there’s James Blake and sister powerhouses, Venus and Serena Williams.
The Williams sisters brought tennis to a new audience when they emerged onto the scene in the 1990s and when they won the women’s doubles title in 1997 at the U.S Open. Twelve years later, the face of high-ranking female players hasn’t diversified much.
But the United States Tennis Association (USTA), which runs the U.S. Open and other tournaments throughout the U.S., hasn’t had its head in the sand over the last decade and wants to actively work on changing that.
To spur its efforts, the USTA hired Kevin Clayton, 50, as chief diversity officer in January 2009. With a background that includes a 10-year tenure at Proctor and Gamble, where he worked on the corporation’s diversity efforts, Clayton came to the realization that “if you create an inclusive environment, allow people to succeed, and enjoy the things that they enjoy doing that it can help the bottom line.”
Clayton spoke with BlackEnterprise.com about his goals for the USTA, community outreach, and why this is his best job ever.
BlackEnterprise.com: What drew you to the USTA?
Kevin Clayton: After I left Russell Corp., I went to the American Cancer Society (ACS) for a year and got my feet wet with how to leverage diversity with a nonprofit environment, which actually prepared me for this organization because it is the same set up. The transition back to sports is one of the reasons I left ACS, and this, to me, is the best job I’ve ever had for these reasons: One, my background is sports and it connects me with the passion I have personally. Secondly, the organization is absolutely supportive of integrating diversity into all components of what we do. And to have an opportunity to impact the face of tennis is personally and professionally a wonderful responsibility that I really feel privileged to have that opportunity.