Women of the Year 2021: The GIST is Leveling the Playing Field for Sports Media Coverage
From Olympic athletes and tech startup founders to social impact champions and business changemakers, our inaugural 2021 Women of the Year guide features 37 impressive leaders who are making a difference, both individually and as a collective. They’ve all navigated incredible obstacles to get to where they are (often on an uneven playing field) and yet, despite this, have still managed to summit their industries and change Canada—and the world around them—for the better. In our series of one-on-one interviews, get to know each honouree a little better: their values, mission, lessons learned, and the other women that inspire them in their own lives.
Jacie deHoop, Roslyn McLarty, Ellen Hyslop
Co-founders, The GIST
What is your elevator pitch to the world?
The GIST is a women-run digital sports media company that creates sports content that’s by women, for everyone.
What excites you most about the work that you are doing?
Roslyn McLarty: The impact that we can have on the sports industry as a whole.
Our goal is to level the playing field in the industry by diversifying the faces of sports media, pushing equal coverage, and creating a more inclusive definition of a “sports fan.”
It’s exciting to challenge the status quo and we’re bullish on the many paths our company can grow.
We’re demonstrating that it’s possible to be successful in a new model where sports fans—men and women, alike—consume sports news that has a women-centric voice and perspective, that has equal coverage on men’s and women’s sports and that appeals to a broad base of fans (from very casual to avid.)
This hypothesis has been largely untested perhaps in part due to the unconscious (or conscious) bias engrained in legacy sports media. But we truly believe that for the entire sports industry to grow, it needs to include, and meaningfully engage with, underserved sports fans. And part of that equation includes hiring people and covering athletes that are representative of a wider audience.
Where do you think you have made the most impact in your company and community?
Ellen Hyslop: We receive feedback and testimonials from our GISTers (our GIST community) everyday on the impact that we’ve had on them, their friends, or their family. That has been such a rewarding part of starting The GIST.
What kind of problems are you trying to solve?
Jacie deHoop: Sports are a powerful connector and a social currency in our society. But for many people, it’s a currency they don’t have access to and a community they’re excluded from.
This is in part thanks to the traditionally male-dominated sports media industry not doing enough to include everyone—they fail to equally include women journalists in story-telling and fail to adequately cover women’s sports.
Less than 14 percent of sports journalists are women and less than four percent of coverage is on female athletes. The lack of female voices and lack of visibility of women’s sports has unfortunately made many feel unwelcome or disenfranchised by sports. This is a pain point we personally felt, and that ignited our passion to solve it.
What are you doing that no one else is doing?
Ellen Hyslop: We’re taking a completely different approach to deliver sports news. One of the key reasons why we stand out is because we’ve always started with the “why” behind our content: the mission of leveling the playing field, the notion of bringing a conversational female-centric voice to a traditionally male-dominated space, and the fact that we’re serving an untapped, underserved market.
The GIST is all about bringing long-absent female voices and perspectives to the forefront, which allows us to provide a refreshing angle on sports in comparison to the traditionally male-dominated sports space. And with that comes equal coverage for both men’s and women’s sports.
In comparison to traditional media, we’re also talking to all sports fans. We want to be that witty, sports-obsessed best friend that you turn to learn more. We provide curation and context so that our free, four-times-weekly newsletter is a meaningful read no matter someone’s background or experience.
At the same time, our newsletter is fun and lighthearted—we’re the opposite of the exclusive or dry format that you’re used to seeing in traditional sports columns. We want to welcome people into the sports community, not push them away from it.
Why is your work important?
Roslyn McLarty: Sports are a microcosm of our society and the last couple of years have really brought to light the inequality that prevails in our society. We’ve chosen to direct our work towards an industry that, like many, is dominated by those with privilege, and one that also is displayed on the world stage.
We hope that any contributions The GIST makes in leveling the playing field not only directly impacts our community, the athletes we write about, and women in the sports industry at large, but that The GIST also inspires women and those in underrepresented groups to take up space in the places they’ve traditionally been excluded from.
Was there ever a turning point in your career that fundamentally changed your business for the better?
Jacie deHoop: A major turning point for us occurred earlier this year when we raised $1M+ in seed funding. Raising this level of capital allowed us to substantially grow our business: we’ve scaled our team, our marketing, and our content, which in turn has allowed us to not only make a bigger impact but also earn meaningful revenue.
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve led your company?
Roslyn McLarty: There isn’t a “right” way to build a company. There are many different ways to be a great entrepreneur, a great leader.
One of the biggest things we’ve learned about ourselves as we’ve led the company is that it’s okay to be our authentic and genuine selves, to be vulnerable with our team, to ask for help, to recognize how we want to show up to the world and to lean into our strengths (while also building around our skills gaps!)
What has been the most challenging part of building the business?
Jacie deHoop: The early days were the most challenging. There was less momentum around women in sports, the newsletter space was unproven, and we had no traction to speak to. All we had was a minimum viable product (the newsletter), a few thousand subscribers (mostly friends and family), and a vision for what it all could become.
With that lack of validation, credibility, meaningful funding, relevant industry knowledge or entrepreneurship experience came a lot of no’s, rejections, and doubt, which, at the time, was frustrating.
But getting through it helped us build resilience and better understand ourselves and each other, and has greatly impacted the success we’ve had.
What has been the most rewarding part of building the business?
Ellen Hyslop: For us, the most rewarding part has been building a business that has a positive social impact and is financially thriving with a group of kickass women.
It’s also been incredibly fulfilling to work with a group of people that are as passionate about our mission of leveling the playing field as we are and seeing how that passion, excellence, and teamwork manifests itself as success for the business.
We feel extremely fortunate to be doing what we’re doing and that our success thus far has allowed us to build a team to take The GIST to the next level.
What questions do you think all leaders should ask themselves before building a company?
Roslyn McLarty: Are you intrinsically motivated by the mission or vision for your company? Does it give you a sense of purpose? If the answers are yes, you will enjoy the process of building the company so much more, and on the harder days, it will give you extra motivation to push through.
In your experience, what do you think is the quickest way to get people on board with your mission?
Jacie deHoop: We have spent a lot of time honing our pitches to investors, partners and GISTers. We find the quickest way to get people on board is to use numbers (stats on the industry, stats on growth in the space, traction figures) to tell a compelling story that focuses on the clear need for The GIST and the impact we are having.
What is your mission? The bigger picture?
Ellen Hyslop: The GIST’s mission is to level the playing field in sports. To us, there are three major pillars in the way we do this. First, we put men’s and women’s sports on a level playing field by providing equal sports coverage. Second, we bring long-absent female voices and perspectives to the forefront in an industry where homogenous voices have dominated. And third, we make sports more inclusive, accessible, and fun for underserved audiences and casual fans that have felt excluded from or disenfranchised with sports as they’ve been traditionally presented.
How do you define success? What does it mean to you?
Roslyn McLarty: To us, success means building a company in a way that aligns with your personal values, that gives you a sense of meaning and purpose and an opportunity to grow in your career and as an individual. And in a way that enriches your life (not that takes over your life altogether!)
It also means creating a lasting impact. We want to be able to look back at positive change in the sports industry and say “hey, The GIST was part of that.”
What is one lesson that you hope people will learn or walk away with from your work?
Sports are for everyone.
If you could go back and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Roslyn McLarty: Be patient, trust that doing your best is good enough, and be grateful in the present moment. Celebrate and reflect on your accomplishments and milestones. Be thoughtful, trust yourself, trust the process.
Who is a woman in the community that you admire?
Mallorie Brodie, CEO and co-founder of Bridgit, is a mentor, investor, and someone we admire greatly. She has accomplished so much while running her incredibly successful startup, and still takes the initiative and time to mentor other founders.