A woman’s voice - espnW Summit

Laura Gentile
“A woman’s voice is all these things. And much needed in conversation” Laura Gentile, SVP espnW.

As part of this wicked journey I am on with the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Programme, I had the honor of attending the espnW Summit Women + Sport. This fancy affair was opened by Laura Gentile talking about the power of a woman’s voice. It’s an interesting time to be in the US and be having these conversations about women in leadership; with the election right around the corner and the possibility of America having its first female president.

So what it is about women and their voices that are important in this male dominated society of ours? Well, as one of my sisters put it during our time in DC “Women make up half of the world’s population, and are mothers to the other half”. We don’t want to live in a world where women are not heard and we know women are born leaders - hello… Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, Kate Sheppard.

Women bring empathy, collaboration, communication and the ability to connect, I’m not saying some men don’t, but diversity in leadership breeds innovation. If we are going to create a more equitable world then we need to challenge stereotypical ideas about gender roles. Just as the status quo is holding women back from leadership roles, it is holding men back from embracing care giving and support roles in society.

Laura was closely followed by Aarti Kappor who spoke about Health, Wellness + Fitness: The evolving consumer. One of the key messages I took from her awesome presentation, was that having women in leadership is good for business to draw on the creativity of a diverse staff and recognise the purchasing power of women. According to her research women are outpacing their male counterparts when it comes to income growth and they ‘control’ 85% of household purchasing decisions. She also talked about “Strong being the NEW Skinny” — which makes my heart sing for the work Shift is doing.

Talking about Shift, I’ve been thinking about how we teach media literacy to young women as part of Shift, I know this is something Chloe has been thinking about too. Coincidentally, I listened to a podcast “Hooked on Social Media” the day before the Summit and then heard sports reporters Sarah Spain and others talking about their experiences with Mean tweets + Social Media Harassment

If you have time to even watch a little of this video you’ll get the gist. The whole concept of teaching media literacy to young women has been ignited in me after hearing their experiences. This ‘cyber-bullying’ is not ok. Sticks and stones may break your bones and words can break your heart. We’ve all seen or experienced this, so what are we going to do about it?

There were a few other women at the Summit who blew my mind.

1.Tatyana McFadden, winner of 17 Paralympic medals. “I knew it was going to be hard, but I’ve been through harder things”. Born with spina bifida, Tatyana spent the first six years of her life in a Russian orphanage with virtually nothing, not even a wheelchair. Paralysed from the waist down, and with no other way to move, she learned to walk on her hands simply to keep up with the other children. Little did she know that the powerful arms and hands she began to develop as a small child would someday carry her around the globe as one of the world’s greatest athletes.

L to R: Dr Sarah, Tatyana McFadden, Dr Ash — hanging with their SHERO

2. Brighton Zeuner, a skateboarding Californian who became the youngest female competitor in X Games history at age 11. She was on stage with two slightly older athletes (Sydney McLaughlin and Chloe Dygert) and out shone them with her humor, down to earth nature and all round #girlpower.

Brighton superstar #girlscandoanything

3.Sarah Brown. Star of espnW documentary “Run Mama Run” which highlights her build up to competing for a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team… whilst pregnant.

The documentary is about running, but more than that it’s about being a woman, a mother and having grit. Sarah and her coach (husband) are beautiful in this documentary and in real life. ‘Run Mama Run’ paints a very real picture of the measures it takes to pursue your dreams — both professionally and personally.

4. Jessie Graff — AKA American Ninja Warrior. Ironically, I posted a video of Jessie on our Shift Facebook page in August… little did I know I was going to meet her in person two months later. To me, Jessie (as a stunt women, black belt and all-round lovely human) epitomises strength and a can-do attitude. She is such a great role model to women young and old and I was stoked to get to tell her that & a little bit about Shift!

Jessie Graff

And last but not least Nikky Finney & Paulette Leaphart who gave me the most perspective during the two and a half days. Nikky is a renown poet and activist and closed the Summit by reading the poem she crafted about Paulette - ‘Topless in America’.

Paulette, who had a double mastectomy in 2014, walked a 1034 mile epic journey from Biloxi, Mississippi to Washington DC topless earlier this year to raise awareness of breast cancer and empower herself and others.

The tears flowed down Paulette’s cheeks (and everyone else’s) as we all sat listening to the painful and beautiful story roll off Nikky’s lips. The reason it gave me the most perspective is that it reminded me of my privilege. It reminded me how blessed I am. It reminded me, whilst sitting in a 6 star resort, that I am responsible for making a difference in this world. It reminded me of the power of words and the power of a woman’s voice.

Strong Women, Better World.
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