How does a woman make it in a man’s world?

That might seem like a question straight out of a 1970s consciousness-raising session, but it is still relevant, says Joetta Clark Diggs. There are still many professions dominated by men, and women still have a more difficult time breaking in. Worse, they often don’t even try because they simply don’t think of areas like construction or the import/export business.

Sports is one of those traditionally male arenas. Even very talented female athletes have difficulty making as much money as their male counterparts. But that didn’t stop Diggs from having a successful Olympic career that she parlayed into a successful business.

Though many people think the Olympics provide equal opportunity for recognition and success, many of the best-known female Olympians are found in sports that are seen as more traditionally feminine, such as gymnastics and figure skating. Diggs made her stand in the very male-dominated world of track and field. She will discuss success for women in non-traditional careers at the 12th Annual NJAWBO Procurement Event on Wednesday, February 10, at 8 a.m. at the Pines Manor in Edison. Cost: $150. Visit www.NJAWBO.org.

The event will focus on stimulus money and includes a business and lifestyles expo and one-on-one appointments between small business owners and corporations or government agencies looking for vendors. Several workshops will be held throughout the day on topics such as doing business with the military and how to win stimulus contracts. Diggs will be joined by Marge Perry, president of MZM Construction; Mahina Gannet of the Rabbit Hole Bake Shop; and Esther Psarakis, owner of A Taste of Crete, a Greek specialty foods retailer.

Diggs is a four-time Olympian, competing as a middle-distance runner from 1988 to 2000. A graduate of the University of Tennessee, she was ranked among the top 10 runners in America for 20 years and ranked top 10 in the world nine times. In 2000 she made Olympic history when she, her sister, and her sister-in-a-law all made the Olympic team in the 800-meter event.

Today, as the president of Joetta Sports & Beyond LLC in Hillsborough and the executive director of the Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation, Diggs delivers motivational seminars to athletic programs, businesses, and other organizations across the country. She also raises funds to provide free fitness, track and field camps, and other initiatives to children’s programs throughout New Jersey. She recently published a book, “Joetta’s ‘P’ Principles for Success” and was the host and producer of a cable fitness show for kids called “Fitkidz, NJ.”

Her father, Joe Clark, was the principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, famous for his brand of tough-love discipline including expelling suspected drug dealers , chaining the doors, and roaming the halls with a baseball bat. He was played by Morgan Freeman in the movie “Lean on Me.”

Purpose. The first of Diggs’ five P principles, purpose identifies what you want to do and why you want to do it. For business owners that means understanding where a profit can be made — and where it won’t be.

“You have to choose a direction in which you can make money,” she says. After the Olympics Diggs worked as a special investigator in the state Attorney General’s Office, Drug Diversion Section. She returned to track and field mostly for the money. “I was making $27,000,” she says of her law enforcement career. “I thought that I not only enjoyed track and field, I could make more money in less time.”

Preparation. Getting the education and training you need to succeed in your chosen field is essential, Diggs says. And you must learn not only the skills for that profession but the business skills you need to succeed.

Diggs prepared for years for the Olympics. Her training began in high school and continued through college. She attended the Olympic trials in 1979, nearly a decade before making it to the U.S. team in 1988.

Patience. There are no overnight successes. It takes time, education, training, and practice to gain credibility in your field and be seen as an expert.

One way to gain credibility, Diggs says, is to share your secrets with others. Diggs spends many hours mentoring others through her nonprofit organization, giving away lots of secrets in the process. “Just because you tell them doesn’t mean they will follow it,” she says.

Developing good networking skills is another good way to develop credibility — and “good networking is sharing and giving others your time and expertise,” she says.

Perturbation. “When people tell you no, you need to become perturbed,” says Diggs. As a woman in athletics she has often been told she could not accomplish something, but says she has never allowed that to stop her.

Diggs has even served as Commissioner of Sports for the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, where she was responsible for all professional sports in the state. She worked with the Giants, Jets, Nets, and Devils, as well as entertainment industry officials, and she often found herself one of the few women making decisions in a very male world.

Perseverance. “You must continually persevere toward your goal,” says Diggs. “You have to constantly apply all of the lessons you have learned to reach success.”

Her perseverance got her to the Olympics four times, and that got her inducted into the National Track Hall of Fame in December.

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