International Women’s Day: The Power of Women in Sport, Fitness, and Business

Written by Topodium Group

Transforming Journeys, Inspiring Possibilities. Topodium Group is the transformational ecosystem where creative marketing, training and consultancy, and innovative technology work in synchronicity to power the sport, health and wellbeing industries. Locations in the UK (Basingstoke), USA (Denver) and SA (Johannesburg).

March 8, 2021

A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. So let’s all choose to challenge. How will you help forge a gender equal world? Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.

Travelling back to 1967, Distance Running was claimed for years that it was damaging to women’s health and destructive to their femininity, instead of being viewed as a recreational sport and favoured form of exercise. Kathrine Switzer entered the Boston Marathon under the neutral pseudonym of K. V Switzer and attempted to change the antiquated ban of women participating. Officials tried to eject her from the race, but she persisted and ended up being the first women to ever complete the Boston Marathon as an official entrant.

katherine switzer- Boston marathon

In 1973, tennis star Billie Jean King led the movement for female tennis players to earn equal prize money in tournaments that featured players of the opposite sex. She also competed against Bobby Riggs in the infamous ‘Battle Of The Sexes’ to which she won the match.

Billie Jean King- Winning 'Battle of the sexes'

It is hard to imagine such a form of exclusion still being a part of recent memory, however, the unfortunate truth is that women are still fighting for an equal platform alongside male athletes and governing officials within the industry. But on this International Women’s Day 2021, it is important to reflect on the tireless dedication of Women in Sport, the progress that has been made, the undeniable impact they hold and how they continue to change the landscape, making it a more inclusive and safe space for all genders. It is also necessary to look at these women, and decide how we as industry professionals, can all do better and inspire positive change.

Decorated Olympians Alex Morgan, Sue Bird, Simone Manuel and Chloe Kim have joined forces and founded their own media and commerce company. They find themselves in the company of athletes such as Lebron James and Kevin Durant. TOGETHXR is a company designed to elevate women’s voices around (but not exclusively) the world of sport. “This is going to be something that breaks barriers” claims Morgan. As each founder believes that the launch of this company comes at the tipping point for women in sport.

Promo shot for TOGETHXR launch

Similarly, we at Topodium Group sat down with Tammy Parlour MBE from the Women’s Sport Trust in our upcoming Making the Podium podcast episode, where she has shed light on her upcoming campaign and programme ‘Unlocked’, designed to raise voices of female athletes, providing webinars and expert advice to female athletes in order for them to make the most of media and commercial opportunities and to further help drive change. “It’s important that we see and hear from different perspectives in sport, so we will provide media, content and speaking opportunities to help improve visibility.”

Tammy Parlour

This rings true when considered that women’s soccer in the United States has enjoyed a substantial increase in TV audiences. The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France generated record viewership: A total of 993 million people watched it on TV, with a further 482 million accessing it via digital platforms. The final alone was watched live by 260 million viewers, including 14.3 million in the United States. Indeed, the 2019 Women’s World Cup final was more popular among US viewers than the men’s final in 2018, with the women’s game drawing 22% more audience. The caveat here is that women’s sports’ ability to deliver strong TV ratings is not matched by its representation in media coverage.

England's womens football team

For instance, an analysis of 250,000 news articles in more than 80 languages found that women’s tennis Grand Slam events received 41% less coverage than the men’s events. This may slow women’s tennis’s momentum, as greater awareness would likely increase viewership yet further. In addition, women’s matches are sometimes not shown on TV, or are relegated to secondary or online channels. Unfortunately, it shines the light that despite the success and talent of these athletes, the overall view and platform is being withheld as it is still often seen as a novelty or a passing fad. If sports and governing bodies invest in women, then the results would be tenfold. The visibility and platform would be key to garner future success and growth of the industry.

Often a lot of times, a workplace that is centred around sports, whether that be management, marketing or even training can feel male dominated, causing female employee’s to feel unsafe and undervalued. “Any mistake is down to you because you’re a woman, not down to the individual” or “he was always prepared to shout louder than me” may be phrases that sound familiar to women in the industry. These quotes were taken from a report focusing on Women’s role within the sports workplace culture, in aid of the campaign: Beyond 30%. The aim to provide a culture transformation that inspires meaningful and balanced changes within the workplace. It is noted by the organisation that it is vital to address the barriers within the culture of sports organisations, creating an environment to thrive, not just survive.

Sports is an ever present factor in so many of our lives, even without us noticing. We constantly move our bodies, play games with our friends growing up, and we never realise the impact that this whole industry has on our development.

Looking at the Topodium Group team, this impact is also heavily present in our ethos, both collectively and individually. Our very own US Marketing Manager, Sydney DeVries, attests to this: “From a young age, I have always been encouraged to play sports… sports made me feel empowered, strong and confident. Seeing that same empowerment and confidence in other female athletes is one of the best things about being in this work.”

Head of Brand and Marketing, Ryan Grimshaw, comments his view on the seismic shift happening with the increased involvement of women within the industry: “I’m excited about the increased visibility of women in sports, and in sports leadership roles, utilising sport and physical activity as vehicles for change. The likes of athletes such as Abby Wombach, whose words and actions on leadership are empowering more generations of young females.”

For one of our Creative Designers, Tom Trenouth, he looks back to the strength of his mother and the other female role models in his life: “To say that my life is filled with strong, capable women is an understatement; I am only here through the strength of my mother – a complex birth almost meant a tragic end for both of us, but she was strong then so that I can be strong now. Through friends, family, and co-workers I am constantly learning about the struggles women are facing, and we should all stand with them when facing adversity. When women have access to the necessary tools that are required to succeed, they are capable of changing the world, and I have yet to meet a women who hasn’t been brave and courageous, standing up for themselves and empowering those around them. Women can change the world, so let’s support that with all we have.”

For Head Of Business Development, Charlotte Owen, also shares her experiences working within this industry: “Having grown up in a male-centric world through sports participation, I was very much used to the ‘boys club’ culture. I was the only girl on a boys football team from ages 5 to 11, then continued to participate in sport throughout my life. In my first coaching role less than 1% of my colleagues were women; this was a culture I was so used to. This perception of me being a woman in a ‘man’s world’ changed when I spent 3 months coaching football in the US, where approximately 50% of grassroots football is played by girls and the culture around it is very different to what I had grown up with. “

“In the early days of my career there was a shared mentality that could prove challenging to navigate as one of very few females in the industry. There wasn’t a single female in a managerial or leadership position which was clearly evident in the way the company operated. In the past couple of years small changes have been made to create a more progressive environment, however there is still a way to go to shake the ‘boys club’ mentality.”

Recently appointed Middle East Business Manager, Donna Osher tells of a wholly positive experience through her time involved in the industry: “I personally have only had positive experiences as a young woman starting out in the industry up until now. The general attitudes have had a positive influence on females in the health and fitness industry, however, I have not come from a ‘competitive elite athlete’ background, where the feelings and experiences for young girls and women I know have been very different, for example the horrific sex abuse towards young girls/women in the US in gymnastics, in the case of Dr Larry Nasser.”

This past decade has been a decade of innovation, change and transparency for so many different facets of life. This also is true when looking at women’s role in sports and further afield into the sports management side. Many female athletes such as footballers, tennis players and cricketers have been awarded professional contracts, providing a genuine career pathway to those who have had to pursue other jobs to fund their true passion and talent. The International Olympic Committee also has had an increase in female members form 21.4% in 2017 to 30.8% in 2019 and there is an overall increase of 124% since 2013.

IOC statistics

The theme for 2021’s International Women’s day is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal Future in a COVID-19 World.” This reiterates the ongoing battle for equal representation within the sports industry. There are many accounts of influential female sports figures using their platform and profile to call out the injustices still being faced, from sexism in the press and competitors, and racism and harassment. But the importance that still rings true and that needs to remain at the forefront of future endeavours within the industry is the value of women in leadership. A UN report points out that “the participation of women and girls in sport challenges gender stereotypes and discrimination, and can therefore be a vehicle to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. In particular, women in sport leadership can shape attitudes towards women’s capabilities as leaders and decision-makers, especially in traditional male domains.”

“Diversity of experience and thought around the boardroom table is essential if sports organisations are to effectively represent and engage people from all quarters of society.”- Dame Katherine Grainger, Chair of UK Sport. But the case for more women leaders is not just a business or financial one. We have an implicit moral and ethical duty to ensure that sport is diverse and inclusive for the benefit of everyone in society. Women make up 51% of the population, so it is incomprehensible to exclude women in the decision-making process that will impact on them and our success with them.

Women in Leadership Statistics

But what can be done? What steps are laid out to ensure this growth? Barbara Slater, former Olympic gymnast and now the first female Director of Sport for the BBC says it’s all about “women resetting their expectations.” She re-iterates the importance of women realising their true value in the workplace: “Be an expert in your job and don’t be afraid to seek out advice.” This recent decade is unique because it holds so many firsts and milestones for women, but also there are so many more female role models than ever before, inspiring the next generation to believe they can envision a brighter future and they can strive to do anything.”

“I looked up to glass-ceiling breakers like Mia Hamm and Serena Williams as a young girl. I saw they could, so I did.”- Sydney DeVries.

Organisations are setting more targets for diversity and equality, and there is so much more awareness of the inequality and pitfalls and a true desire to change that and level the playing field. The sporting world is starting to change beyond comprehension, however it’s important to realise that this is just the beginning.

Happy International Women’s Day from all of us at Topodium Group.

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