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Leaders & trailblazers: The Detroit Pistons' Erika Swilley

Part of: Women leaders & trailblazers

It was Erika Swilley’s mother who instilled in her the importance of giving back and helping others from a young age. However, while absorbing the lessons of goodness and grace, Swilley was convinced that she wouldn’t follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a social work therapist. Now, as the Vice President of Community and Social Responsibility for the Detroit Pistons, Swilley, whose role is built on giving back and helping others, is wondering if her mom may have gotten the last laugh after all.

After joining the Pistons’ community relations department 18 years ago, she climbed her way up the professional basketball ladder to where she is today. Her journey includes three Championship rings, two with the WNBA Detroit Shock and one with the NBA Golden State Warriors. 

What are some of the biggest challenges or surprises as a woman in your respective industry? 

Being in this industry for so long, I've definitely seen it evolve. There weren’t a ton of women when I first got my start, especially in higher level positions. Now, I see a lot more women and a lot more diversity. There are also more women who have families, so there is a growing idea that you can be at the top and have a family as well. We still have a way to go – we are still seeing “firsts,” like the first female coach or first female referee – it will be nice when those firsts are the norm.

What’s something you wish you knew then that you know now?

Don’t rush the process. I see that in a lot of the younger people I manage. They're like, “Okay, I got the position, what's next?” rather than enjoying the process and taking time to relish where you are.  

What work are you most proud of?

I'm just so proud that I’m able to have a job that’s fulfilling and where I'm able to give back at such a high level. I always say that sport is a universal language that unites people. Being able to use my job to bring people together who might not necessarily get together naturally is very rewarding. Nothing could have prepared me to do community work through a pandemic. While the world stopped, the need got greater. That's the stuff you can't plan for but must be there for.  

What’s been a key money life lesson for you? 

Save early and save often! I think people get caught up in “When I make this amount of money I'll start saving,” but it's really important to budget and save early on. Even if it's a small amount, it will add up. 

I always say that being a woman is my superpower. If you find yourself in a room that is predominantly male, that's what you're bringing to the table.

What's your advice for young girls and future generations who want to follow in your footsteps?

As a woman, it's important that you find your voice and advocate for yourself. I always say that being a woman is my superpower. If you find yourself in a room that is predominantly male, that's what you're bringing to the table – your way of thinking and solving is going to be different. You deserve to have a seat at that table, so find your voice and use it. 

The financial views, information or opinions expressed are solely those of the individuals involved and do not represent those of Ally.

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