As a sixth-grader in South Bend, Ind., Cindy Alvear went out for the boys' basketball team but she didn't make the cut.
Her failure to play with the boys wasn't a heartbreaking moment, Ms. Alvear said, because her real passion was volleyball.
She ended up as captain of the volleyball squad at Indiana University Bloomington; worked as an assistant coach at the University of Wyoming and Texas A&M University; then became head coach at the University of Pittsburgh in 1993, where her teams won Big East championships and trips to national tournaments.
Now an attorney based in Carnegie, Ms. Alvear, 51, recalls her sixth-grade experience as one of her earliest exposures to the sports gender gap.
Years after retiring from coaching but still a sports enthusiast, Ms. Alvear's concerns about disparities in the industry motivated her to become involved with Women in Sports and Events, or WISE, a national organization that provides a network and career resources for female professionals in sports-related jobs.
The Pittsburgh chapter of WISE will hold an official launch Wednesday at the Consol Energy Center, where Renee Brown, chief of basketball operations and player relations for the WNBA, will be the keynote speaker at a lunch event.
Based in New York, WISE was founded in 1993 and membership now totals 1,000 nationwide, including women who work for teams, colleges and universities, media organizations, sports agencies and businesses.
Ms. Alvear is serving as president of the Pittsburgh chapter, which has about 50 members. Though it was organized before she became involved in 2009, she said the local group was not officially incorporated with a board of directors or bylaws until recently.
The current board -- including women who work for the Penguins, the Pirates and in sports marketing, higher education, human resources and law -- aims to develop programming that will provide members with leadership skills they can use to advance their careers.
"All these women have great talents and resources," Ms. Alvear said. "We want WISE to be a central place where all these women come together and we offer tangible training. It's not just a social club. It's not just that we get together to chat and have coffee."
Among the specific training topics she hopes will be offered are negotiation, public speaking and how to run a board meeting.
"These are tangible things it takes to be prepared to move through the ranks," Ms. Alvear said.
Because of a dearth of women in top management positions in the sports industry, "we hit a wall with mentoring," she said. "And we hit a wall with decision making and hiring.
"And because of that, maybe fewer women who desire it pursue it because they say, 'If I try to advance to the CEO level, can I do it?' "
The WNBA's Ms. Brown was an assistant coach for women's basketball teams at the University of Kansas, Stanford University and San Jose State University prior to joining the WNBA in 1996 as director of player personnel.
During her years as a coach, Ms. Alvear said she became sensitive to the differences in how men and women moved up the sports career ladder.
"It opened my eyes to women kind of being stand-alone entities and not having their own network for jobs, advancement or training. Many of my mentors were men. That's something we're hoping to help change at least in the Pittsburgh area."
For more information or to register for Wednesday's event, go to www.wisepittsburgh.com.businessnews
Joyce Gannon: email@example.com or 412-263-1580.