“You need to have an obsession to be great, no matter what you choose to do in life.”
The truth of those words landed on me as I sat in the fourth row of a conference room packed with 500 sports leaders, coaches and industry professionals. We were gathered to hear the keynote of a well-known former Major League Baseball player turned motivational speaker.
Those and many of his words were inspiring. He encouraged us to set goals, work harder than anyone else is willing to work, believe in ourselves and we too could make our dreams a reality. He wanted to teach us to do what he had done. To learn from his success.
I looked around the room and the crowd was about half women, half men. They seemed to enjoy his presentation, and frankly, it was really good.
But at that moment I wondered, does anyone see what I see? Does anyone see what is missing?
The massive roadblock I saw was this: No matter how much I believed in myself, no matter how hard I worked or how talented, or how obsessed I was, I could never accomplish what he did. I could never play baseball in packed stadiums in front of millions of fans and be paid millions of dollars to do it. I could never have that size of a platform to launch my post-sport media career. It is impossible because I am a woman.
Because I am a woman, my opportunities to make a living as a professional athlete are minimal.
Because I am a woman, I will never know what it is like to explore my physical potential without limits. Without extremely limited resources.
Because I am a woman, no amount of positive thinking was going to change that reality. It reminded me of when I was a child, being told by my parents and teachers that I could be whatever I wanted to be, but as I observed the world around me, I knew they were lying to me. It was the 1980’s. I could see clearly that my chances of being a professional athlete or a CEO or Prime Minister were slim to none. That was and very much still is just the reality.
So I set my sights on changing reality.
Creating What We Want to See So Others Can Be
As women, many of us have a shared cultural experience of being excluded from sport, from top down and bottom up. Women have only a fraction of the opportunities that men do in professional sport, in sports media, amateur and kid’s sports. From a young age we receive the cultural message that we are physically “lesser” than our male counterparts, that our hormone cycles and naturally higher body fat percentage are “bad” and hold us back. It is no surprise that girls drop out of sport at twice the rate of boys. And that women will later vanish from the start lines while their male counterparts remain.
The female sport landscape is a minefield of stories of girls being cut from teams because puberty made them awkward or being shamed for a period leak or called fat by a coach who didn’t know any better. At the other end of the spectrum, you see women in their 40s who start slipping away from sports because menopause—sometimes called puberty in reverse—fills them with a cultural shame they barely understand, but keenly feel.
And none of this is just about sports. It’s no coincidence that I was sitting at a keynote at a sports industry conference being delivered by a former pro athlete. Physical and mental health are inextricably connected. When you hear stories about female business executives, you discover that most played sports in high school and college. It is culturally imperative that we elevate women’s sports and opportunities for women to stay active throughout our lives.
It’s the cumulation of all these stories that is OUR STORY. The cumulation of these stories made us, as individuals, as a team and as a company, realize that what we really need is a cultural shift.
The cultural shift we are looking for is not one that is content to sit and complain about everything that is missing, but one that is willing to dissemble the barriers, move forward and say, “What can we do?”“How can we create an inclusive culture for women and for the girls who are coming up behind us?”
The story for me, is that I want to move towards a more positive cultural narrative for active women and girls, one in which we can love and enjoy our bodies and feel good about our physical presence in the world. And I know that this shift will spill out into every other part of our lives as women, to our work, our friendships, families, and our mental health.
One of the best ways to help people feel empowered in the world is to help us all feel strong and physically capable. We must create a more inclusive space for women in sports and in business. Our feisty way of doing that is to tell stories, educate, create communities. And laugh. A lot.
While we’re at it, I am hopeful we can write a playbook for anyone that wants to level the playing field and be more inclusive of all under-represented groups, throughout our different communities, not just for those of us who identify as women.
As CEO my goal is to build a media company that is based on community and where that community is us. I aim to collect a team of partners, employees, and advisors who truly understand what we are trying to achieve, do my best to make good decisions as new ideas and directions arise, and watch the magic that happens when we bring the right people together.
Our story is ongoing. It’s the story of everyone who has ever looked out at the world and wished it was created a little more in their image. I bet it’s your story too.