They’re women who are loving mothers, raising families while working a job they’re passionate about – in football.
“There’s the football team and the front office and really, it’s just one big team,” says Colts Owner and Vice Chair Carlie Irsay-Gordon. “The way teams work the best is communicating really well, owning mistakes, and learning how to fix them or adapting and evolving.”
Which is also how families work best.
The Indianapolis Colts are a football team, but they’re also a family. And with three women at the top of the organization, Carlie Irsay-Gordon, Casey Foyt, and Kalen Jackson, they’re not just working in what used to be a man’s world – they’re doing it alongside other women who are also doing it all.
The truth is, the Colts organization was supportive of women long before Jim Irsay’s daughters joined the team.
“My dad having three daughters, even before we were moms – he saw my mom, her sisters, his mother, and plenty of other women in his life who were and are still trailblazers. He always tells anyone who will listen that he’d have had six girls if he could have,” says Kalen Jackson, the youngest Irsay daughter – who’s expecting her first child, a daughter, this fall.
“He just talks so highly of women in business and what they bring to the table and how they bring a different perspective. It’s really good to have that balance and it only improves things in any business and organization, to have both male and female input.”
Not to mention, women make up almost half the Colts fan base.
“If you’re a business like ours, not having mothers that work in your organization is total lunacy. And you need to have mothers of all stages,” says Irsay-Gordon. “And once you get a mom fan, they’re loyal, they show up, they are advocates and champions for your brand – it’s just really powerful. And I think that for us to not have moms, we’d be missing out on A, a huge pool of talent and B, we need moms to help understand part of our fan base.”
Senior Director of Marketing Stephanie Pemberton is on maternity leave with her second child, a son. After having her daughter, she knows what it’s like returning to work. Still, she calls it a blessing to return to work for the Colts.
“There’s an understanding there with all three of the Irsay daughters having children and one expecting, they’re in our shoes every day and they understand the work – life balance. And so, when things do pop up, you have to head out or you have to take some time and be with family, there’s a level of understanding there that I think only another mom can understand.”
It’s one of the reasons Irsay-Gordon decided to come work for the family business in the first place. A mother of three young daughters, she says she always wanted to be a mom. But she gets a sense of purpose and value working outside the home.
“That’s why I left the path of being a clinical psychologist and having that practice and working crazy hours with my husband being an attorney too,” she says. “Now, I get to have my cake and eat it too because I get to work for my family and still work crazy hours – but the difference is, if my daughter has a recital that’s on a Tuesday morning at 10:00, I can go to it and I can work until 9 if I want or on draft weekend, until 1 in the morning. It doesn’t matter.”
Marketing Coordinator Ashley Powell basically grew up in the Colts organization.
“I started working here before I was married, before I had kids, so I’ve kind of evolved at the Colts with my family,” she says. “It’s kind of a scary experience going through that for the first time, but they do such a good job of giving you the time that you need, understanding when you have a sick kid, it happens – it happens to everybody. And they’re just always really good about understanding these family needs. And I think it definitely comes from the top down. It’s a family run organization and they definitely make their employees feel like family and their families feel like family.”
Stephanie Cassel, manager of community relations, says becoming a mom herself changed how she looks at the other moms around her.
“You look at these women and you’re in admiration because they’re doing it and you’re watching it and they’re being a mom and they’re still great at their careers and making an impact. And then, it happens to you and you realize what they’ve really been doing.”
It also gave her a deeper appreciation for what her own mother was able to do and what she continues to do. Now retired, her mom helps take care of her daughter while she takes on the role of working mom.
“She is world traveler executive woman, conquer the world, she just did it and she did it well. I never knew anything different and I’m not sure I would have wanted to, because she really set the bar. She was just a great mom, a great role model, well rounded, showed me empathy and how to be a successful woman and how to still have that mom piece to you.”
Vice President of Finance and Human Resources, Stacy Johns, says she came to work for the Colts in part because she knew it was a place where she could have a family and be successful.
“When I go to Pete (Ward) and have to tell him anything I need to do for any of my kids, he looks me in the eye and is very sincere and tells me, ‘Don’t miss it.’ Like, I don’t want you to miss it.”
And with three kids, including two daughters who dance, Johns isn’t just a working mom, she’s also a dance mom.
“It takes a village, I’ll tell you,” she says. “I wouldn’t be able to be a dance mom who has two daughters that dance as much as mine do without all the really supportive, amazing dance mom friends I have. They make the world go round in my house.”
Colts Cheerleader Manager Kelly Tilley says being a mom makes her and the women she shares her journey with even more successful.
“There’s this understanding that your family makes you really happy and makes you a better person and more excited to come to work and positive because you have something at home that you love and that you look forward to seeing at the end of the day.”
It also makes her more creative.
“My 9-year-old had something early in the morning and we kind of had a later night with sports and school and I was like, ‘Just sleep in your clothes. And that way, we can just get out the door first thing in the morning and we don’t have to worry about it, it doesn’t have to feel so chaotic. We’ll feel like we’re in control of life.’”
Along with a job they love and a family they love, these women all have something else in common – supportive husbands who are hands on and have their backs.
“I could not do what I do without him,” says Powell of her husband, Eric. “There are a lot of Saturdays and Sundays and long days. He’s never complained once. He’s totally supportive of what I do. He’s an awesome dad, the girls adore him, I adore him.”
And that’s something else Irsay-Gordon wants her girls – and all girls – to understand.
“Do something that makes you happy. But I think the second part is, you better pick a partner that supports what you want to do – because you really can’t do it alone.”
It takes a team to raise a child – husbands, family members, friends, and neighbors.
It’s not going to be easy. And, as Irsay-Gordon tells her daughters, it’s not going to be perfect.
“’I’m not always going to get it right. I’m going to let you down sometimes. You’re going to let me down. But at the end of the day, the one thing that stays constant is I would do anything for you. And I love you, no matter what.’ And that’s teaching them what family is about.”
It’s also teaching them what football is about.
Football is family. And the Indianapolis Colts are all about family.
Happy Mother’s Day to these amazing moms and all the moms of Colts Nation!