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The New League: Women Breaking Barriers in Sports

The New

When you see leaders changing the game, you can’t help but notice. We are celebrating these powerful and purpose-driven leaders who are breaking barriers in their own way in professional and intercollegiate sports: Dr. Janice Hilliard, President and CEO of Hilliard Solutions (a She-Suite Brand Leadership Institute alumna); Lisa Bettinger-Buckingham, Chief Human Resources Officer, U.S. Soccer Federation; and Deidre Merritt, Managing Director of Leadership Development, NCAA (a She-Suite Brand Leadership Institute alumna).

With drive, determination, and a belief in something bigger than themselves, these executives have commanded the respect and recognition in their industry, while inspiring the next generation to follow suit.

Dr. Janice Hilliard
Founder/CEO, Hilliard Solutions, Former NBA Exec

While many people spend years figuring out their career path, Dr. Hilliard seems predestined for a life devoted to athletics. From making the varsity basketball team as a high school freshman to being an executive team member in the NBA, Dr. Hilliard is among the new league of women successfully managing a career in the male-dominated industry of sports. As an educator, counselor, coach, and developer of people, Dr. Hilliard has harnessed her gifts,  passions, and experiences to teach professionals to help athletes succeed. Through her company, Hilliard Solutions, Dr. Hilliard has developed a proprietary system that provides personalized guidance and support to both individuals and organizations seeking to overcome barriers and develop their skills and abilities. Her ongoing commitment to diversity, women’s empowerment, and the community at large has earned widespread recognition and has established her as an innovative and influential leader in the athletics industry.

Lisa Buckingham
CHRO, United States Soccer Federation (USSF)

Lisa, as the newly appointed Chief Human Resources Officer at the U.S. Soccer Federation, embodies the spirit of innovation and leadership in sports. With over 20 years of experience in HR strategy and transformation, she has driven significant digital transformation efforts while maintaining a human touch. Previously serving as EVP, Chief People, Place & Brand Officer at Lincoln Financial Group, Lisa’s leadership and commitment to inclusivity earned her titles such as HR Executive of the Year and National Academy of HR Fellow. Her dedication to blending technology with empathetic leadership continues to inspire and pave the way for future women leaders in the sports industry.

Deidre Merritt
Managing Director of Leadership Development, NCAA

With a tenacity that is hard to match, Deidre has been making moves throughout her career in intercollegiate athletics. She began at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she served in various roles, before joining the NCAA in 2016. Over the years, Merritt received several promotions, ultimately becoming the Managing Director of Leadership Development in Fall 2023. During her tenure, she has passionately devoted her efforts towards supporting and elevating under-served groups and individuals, including student-athletes, women, minorities, and first-time female managers. Through the creation of numerous programs and platforms, Merritt has emphasized the importance of, and championed, accessibility of resource and support systems for those she services. In 2021, the impact of the work under her leadership development team earned a feature in Forbes magazine. In 2023, Merritt was named Nike Executive of the Year by Women Leaders in College Sports.

The remarkable achievements of Dr. Janice Hilliard, Lisa Bettinger-Buckingham, and Deidre Merritt exemplify the transformative power of determination, resilience, and a commitment to breaking barriers in the world of sports leadership. Through their unwavering dedication to their craft and their communities, they have not only achieved remarkable success but have also paved the way for future generations of women in sports, reminding us that with passion and perseverance, anything is possible.