A fellow player at a golf event this summer in Reno, Nevada, kept referring to Emily Jaenson as “Aces Girl.” Jaenson has let plenty of sexist comments—intentional or not—slide. But on this day, she made sure to correct the person. “I’m not the Aces girl; I’m not a mascot,” she said. “My name is Emily and I am the general manager of the Reno Aces. Nice to meet you.”
Jaenson stands out in many ways as the general manager of the Triple-A Reno Aces. Above all else, she reached the top of an organization at a young age through hard work. Not only that, Jaenson has excelled in myriad opportunities across sports since graduating from the University of Illinois. She is also the only women general manager in Triple-A—the level closest to Major League Baseball.
“Thank God, I’m not the first,” she says of her status among women general managers. Tammy Felker-White and Dorsena Picknell held that position with the Portland Beavers and Salt Lake Buzz, respectively. (Click here for our video interview).
But while there may be a day when men and women sit equally in sports, today is not that day.
Consider the moment Jaenson attended the Minor League Baseball Meetings. She had a seat at the table among her peers, but not surprisingly, was the only woman. “It was something I knew, but seeing it is a little different.”
Student of the Game
Anyone who’s watched a baseball game knows there is a clear path around the bases. Jaenson’s journey to the head of a Triple-A baseball team was not quite as obvious.
Jaenson always wanted her career to be in sports. She quickly dismissed her initial dream of being a physical therapist. She was too creative and business-driven to be in science.
Her passion was so strong that when a marketing firm offered Jaenson a full-time job, she rejected it to become an intern selling tickets for the Chicago Bulls. “I learned the foundation of being in the front office, which is, in fact, ticket sales.”
In her first stint with the Aces, Jaenson was an account executive before being promoted to a vice president role in 2015. In those roles, she proved minor league baseball plays to her strengths. “We have the freedom to be creative and engage the community,” Jaenson says.
Among the highlights are the annual “Star Wars” night, a Margaritaville-themed evening and a firefighter appreciation night, which is particularly meaningful in a region affected by wildfires.
A New Normal
Family reasons led Jaenson to move to Houston, where she immersed herself in a different form of sports tourism. She consulted with the Harris County—Houston Sports Authority—and learned under the organization’s famed CEO, Janis Burke.
“She is an absolute dynamo,” Jaenson says of Burke.
Jaenson volunteered on Super Bowl LI, worked as a sales director on the World Corporate Games and helped the inaugural Houston Sports Awards Show. She also had a baby in Houston. “It was a really interesting and important season of my life,” Jaenson says.
In May 2018, her family moved back to Reno so Jaenson could begin work on her landmark role with the Aces. Jaenson understands she is more than a general manager—she is a role model.
Her three tips to other women looking to break the glass ceiling in sports are: Be so good they won’t forget you; be versatile (Jill-of-all-trades), and pay it forward within your team and community once you reach a leadership role.
Jaenson is already an inspiration. At the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, she spoke on a panel about women in baseball. More than 300 women attended the session and shared their stories of unfair treatment in the workplace. “That really affected me. I need to have a voice and a platform to share my story and shed light for the next person down the line,” Jaenson explains.
Perhaps her greatest impact will come decades from now as youngsters see Jaenson and other women advance. The Aces are “mommy’s team” to Jaenson’s kid and the ballpark is “mommy’s office.” Jaenson’s role is normal to her children because it’s all they have ever known. It offers hope that change is not only possible but coming.
“That’s why my position and role are so important,” she says. “The more you see something, the more normal it is.”