Leadership Coaching with Susan Dunlap and Bebe Hansen
Where is the challenge of seeing ourselves as strong women? - Dr Sarah

The last three days on the Global Sports Mentoring Programme have been a real mix of learning, laughter & language. I’ve felt happy, content, frustrated, blessed, annoyed, hurt and so many other emotions. For those of you who know about the Flourishing Fellowship I was lucky enough to be a part of last year, you’ll understand. Although this time it feels even bigger, the issues larger, the languages different and the distance from home enormous.

I read a beautiful email from Rachel yesterday who reminded me not to forget about sharing the challenges, the surprises. So instead of writing about how fantastic and amazing everything is, I’ll share some challenges.

Challenge 1. Education is the key

On Thursday we visited the Anthony Bowen YMCA, the Founder of the first Y for African Americans. His ‘owner’ allowed him to pick up small jobs after he’d finished working at the plantation, and in 1826 he bought his way to freedom for $428. His story is shared in a number of places inside the state-of-the-art YMCA and reading it made my heart sing. Anthony transformed his community and helped form one of the few schools for freed African Americans in the 1940's. Anthony obviously believed, as do I, that education is one ticket to knowledge, to empowerment, to change, to growth.

During our time at the Y we had the opportunity to met a small army of female warriors, members of the YMCA Leadership Team. They each shared their personal views on women’s empowerment through sport and community and were extremely passionate about their role in improving the lives of others.

I made a statement and asked a question of them, as I do. Something along the lines of “I am in a leadership position in local government and completed my BA last year at age 33 (round of applause, literally) BUT I was a high school drop-out who took drugs, drank and generally was a bit of a loser. I made my way to where I am today because I was naturally bright, had leadership capability and a bunch of amazing women around me saw my potential, and supported me to rise up. Do you do this for young women in your country/community?”. I’m not sure they understood my question, they certainly didn’t answer it. It was only later talking to Melodie and Dr C that I finally understand why they didn’t. They couldn’t. It seems unfathomable that you could work your way up the ranks to such a position without having a degree, let alone a Masters.

Don’t get me wrong. 1. I believe education is a key to a better future and 2. I believe the women I met at the YMCA have achieved so much for women and equality; but what I don’t get is that even in developed countries we continue to leave women behind. In order to really empower women and bring about social change we need to reach the ones who don’t have all the opportunities, that, not only can’t afford a college education, but can’t even fathom trying.

Sometimes it feels like we are going backwards - “Born a slave and with no formal education, Bowen was able to become a clerk in the United States Patent Office. He started as a laborer, moving up to messenger before being named to a clerkship”. Why celebrate this (amazing) man's achievements but not continue to create equality and impact in the same way? Yes, people need to show up, to try, to push themselves but when life is so clouded and you are lost there sometimes isn’t space to dream.

Challenge 2. Authenticity & Listening

If you really want to make a human feel special, find the time.

Have you ever had that experience where you know someone attends something because they have to, not because they want to? OR maybe it’s not that they don’t want to but they haven’t made the time to prepare properly? That’s happened in the last few days and I found it challenging.

Time, to me is one of the greatest gifts you can give. For someone who's a talker, I’ve had to learn (still learning) the art of listening. It’s tied up with being authentic or genuine, really giving someone your time and your heart. Listening deeply to what they are saying, not just ‘hearing’ them. Communicating in such a way that it is clear the person talking, or listening to you, has spent time considering you and all that you bring.

I won’t dwell on this one because it’s not worth my time ;), but the evidence based Five Ways to Wellbeing talks about ‘Giving’ - and this doesn’t have to be a gift! When someone I respect, admire, love gives me their time and presence it is by far the greatest gift in the world. If you are going to show up then be prepared — communicate from your heart. It sounds, and is, so much more real.

Challenge 3: A different meaning to #allofthethings

This is Maíra Liguori of Brazil, she is one of my sisters on GSMP. Last night Maíra said something like “For women, they need to be ready for everything — for sex, for work, to look after the children, to be skinny, to be beautiful. It’s too much to try to be all of the things”.

Back home my teamies and I have a positive connection to #allofthethings, we use it to celebrate how much we have going on, how great all the ‘busyiness’ is with Shift. Last night it had a very different connotation and was very representative of how I was feeling listening to the women in the room talk about societal constructs that define womanhood.

Above are images representing our views of the ‘regions-ish’ from around the world. Whilst there are some differences depending on culture, religion & ethnicity, there are far too many similarities. What challenges me when it comes to these conversations is both the frustration I feel for young women growing up in our society and the privilege I feel coming from New Zealand. Yes, we have our own issues to address in NZ, but I know I am privileged when I listen to some of the external barriers others must overcome to reach equality in their countries. I’m challenged by this because I care, I’m challenged because I can’t turn a blind eye and I’m challenged because I see the passion and commitment in these women’s faces and I want so much for them to succeed.

In regards to internal challenges, I go back to Dr Sarah’s quote at the beginning of this blog “Where is the challenge of seeing ourselves as strong women?”. More often that not, for me, the challenge comes from within. Can you relate?

  • We hold ourselves back
  • Lack of self confidence
  • Not raising our hands, speaking our voice
  • Internalising negative messages (inner critic)
  • Lower our expectations to fit society’s
  • Pressure to marry and/or have children
  • Imposter syndrome — feeling like a fraud
  • Fewer of us aspire to senior positions
  • FEAR of…not being liked, making the wrong choice, drawing negative attention, being judged, failure

For me the biggest one is feeling like a fraud. Fear that you’re all going to find out I’m not actually capable of making my dreams for Shift become a reality. That it’s not really a thing, it’s just a small project that will fizzle out and die. So speak your fears, center and ground yourselves and allow the people around you to lift you up.

Eleanor Roosevelt — on display at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC.
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face . You must do the thing you think you cannot do” — Eleanor Roosevelt
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