The WWE has long smashed gender barriers and on Tuesday, Stephanie McMahon sat down with TheWrap at the espnW: Women + Sports Summit to talk about why there’s never been a better time for the Women’s Evolution.
“It’s the right time because our audience demanded it, and because of the time in the world,” the WWE Chief Brand Officer told TheWrap following her panel at the eighth annual event held this week in Newport Beach, California.
“You look at Ronda Rousey and every other [female] UFC champion … the  women’s soccer World Cup final match got the highest ratings that soccer has gotten period, men or women,” she continued. “People want to watch incredible competitors. They want to watch great action, they don’t care what the gender is. It was the right time to make that shift in WWE, and to let our women show what they’re made of — and again, they’re stealing the show.”
Watch full video here.
The Women’s Evolution has meant hiring athletes instead of models, and calling them Superstars — just like the men — instead of Divas. The WWE also swapped the butterfly championship belt for some serious hardware.
The driving force behind the transition, led by McMahon’s husband Triple H, is “the type of athlete that we’ve been recruiting — elite athletes from all over the world — and the fact that they’re being trained the same way as the men,” McMahon said.
“And it’s not that our women aren’t beautiful, they are. And it’s not that the models weren’t great athletes, they were. But this was an effort to change the game for both men and women … When you look at the athleticism in the WWE ring now, it is unmatched and they are almost like high-level gymnasts,” she said. “They’re also incredible storytellers with great charisma and that is a unique combination that we scour the globe for.”
There’s also been a greater focus on character development for female Superstars such as the Bella Twins, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks. “Whether they are a protagonist or an antagonist, these women are confident, they’re strong both mentally and physically,” McMahon said.
The work doesn’t stop after the Superstars leave the arena either. They also work tirelessly traveling around the world, performing at live events and on TV, doing public appearances, community efforts and red carpet events. “Our women are absolutely everywhere, and the courage it takes to do that is not common. It is a lot of time and dedication,” McMahon stressed.
“Every single woman who has ever stepped foot inside the squared circle is a part of this women’s evolution whether they were part of WWE or not,” she added.
While she previously worked with espnW on Facebook Live streams and covering the Mae Young Classic — “our first all-women’s tournament that aired exclusively on WWE Network” — McMahon hadn’t been a guest speaker at the flagship Summit before this week.
“I think this is an incredible forum where women come together to support one another. All of us learn something. I was really grateful to have this opportunity. I’m very proud to be here,” she told TheWrap.
The shooting massacre in Las Vegas on the eve of the Summit wasn’t far from anyone’s thoughts, including McMahon’s. She tweeted her sympathy soon after the news broke Monday moring.
Our thoughts & prayers are with everyone affected by the horrific tragedy in Las Vegas. #PrayForVegas ????????
— Stephanie McMahon (@StephMcMahon) October 2, 2017
“The horror that happened in Las Vegas is something we’ve unfortunately seen too often recently,” she said. “The only way to compound that is to send as much love and prayers as you can to all of those impacted … family and friends, the victims, first responders, the medical staff — all the people on the ground who are making a difference and making sacrifices.”
The Summit, which unites female athletes, leaders in the sports world and industry influencers for a two-day program, was just the group therapy many people needed in the wake of such a tragedy. “An event like this is about bringing people together, it’s about celebrating each other, empowering one another, it is the exact opposite of the horror,” McMahon said.
During her “SportsCenter Face to Face” panel with ESPN anchor Hannah Storm, McMahon said that even in early in her career, “I never saw gender as a barrier, and I think it’s so important that women have those roles. I saw my mom [Linda McMahon] as a CEO and never thought there wasn’t an opportunity to be a CEO.
“I always saw myself working in the family business, but I didn’t know how. I started as an Account Executive in the sales office, and I was way too passionate about our business. That’s when I fell in love with the creative. I then spent three months in my mom’s office — I know it was a privilege, and I was able to ask all of the questions I wanted. I later transitioned to the writing team and took it from two people to 12 and went on to be the first woman to launch our digital department,” she explained.
“What I’ve learned is we’re all the same. If we can just love each other more and support each other rather than tearing each other down,” she said, adding: “You’ve just got to take the negativity out of your life.”
Watch the video of the panel above.