Orender speaks at forum

Jessica Harden

“Should I sing the song? No, you all know what song I’m talking about.”

Donna Orender stands at the podium.

“What song?”

An audience members calls out. For a second the room is silent. Orender has her head lowered, her eyes on the microphone in front of her.

In proper business attire, standing in front of a room full of the top business professionals and students, the former president of the WNBA raised her eyes to meet the audience and sang.

“This girl is on fire!”

This was the scene at the Fourth Annual UNF Women in Business Society Forum on March 8, where Orender was the Keynote speaker. The forum was an event held to bring together Jacksonville’s top women business leaders with UNF’s motivated business students in a day where they could network and learn together.

“Networking is everything, right ladies?,” said Monica Morales, President of the Women in Business Society at UNF and senior student in business management.

Students sat beside Jacksonville professionals while listening to Orender, recognized as one of the top ten women in Sports. Orender’s speech told about her life, the lessons she has learned from it, and why these lessons are important to all women in business.

A freshman in high school, Orender set the stage for her future. She was determined to play tennis, but her school only offered it to boys. Orender told the head coach of the boy’s tennis team she wanted to play.

The coach, tough in appearance, didn’t say no. Orender would have to play for her spot on the team just like the boys, and play she did. She won her spot on the boys tennis team and her defiance of gender roles grew from there.

Orender not only played in the first professional basketball league for women (WBL) and worked as a TV producer, but also served as Senior Vice President of Strategic Development for the PGA tour – a position she held for seventeen years.

Some years later, Orender took on the challenge of being President of the WNBA.

“It was the hardest job I ever had” Orender said. “Everyday I was told I couldn’t do it.”

At the time she accepted the position, her boss was not encouraging.

“My boss told me ‘You’re not going to do this’. I said ‘I damn well will’.”

She left the audience with many pieces of advice and lessons but her final words resonated throughout the room.

“Taking the time to understand what matters most. People matter most.” Orender said. “ The only way I only do what I do today is people.”

Orender concluded her speech to a round of applause that ended as a standing cheer.

Email Jessica Harden at [email protected]