Today, March 8th is International Women’s Day. On this date achievements of women are celebrated worldwide and prejudices highlighted to encourage the world to act in the spirit of equality. As a company, Urban Sports Club is committed to equal opportunities– and cooperates with many strong female partners who create space for people to grow beyond themselves and do something good for their health.
In this article we interview Managing Directors Liz Andrews who leads our teams in the Spanish and Portuguese markets and Marine Desbans who leads our teams in the French and Belgium markets to find out what female empowerment through sports means to them.
What does female empowerment through sports mean to you?
Liz: Sports is one of the most accessible ways to create a true sense of identity. It helps build character, confidence and strength and is a natural way to create community and nurture an environment of interdependence and collaboration. I believe a lifelong involvement in sports and fitness is important for all people but especially for women to empower them to stand up for what they believe in, to strive for the achievement of their personal goals and to thrive in all situations amongst their male counterparts.
Marine: Sports is about strength and balance. Two characteristics at the heart of female empowerment.
How can we help shape the future of this industry for women?
Liz: There is a lot of ego still in the sports and fitness industry that can make the environment quite intimidating for women. From when I worked as a personal trainer and at all levels of management I was very aware of the ugly side of competitiveness between workers. I experienced team members ‘putting each other down’ and ‘talking badly behind each other back back’ in order to raise their own profile – something which I hate with a passion. It is so important to set strong standards for oneself rather than condone bad behaviour and go with flow because ‘everyone is doing it’ or ‘it is part of our culture’. Taking a stance and actively sharing positivity will help build strength and confidence in any position.
What challenges have you faced as a leader that your male peers haven’t?
Marine: Our business is at the crossroads of the Sports/Fitness and Tech industries, that are not particularly well known for promoting women and more general diversity at leadership positions. Clearly the strength I have developed since my childhood thanks to all the disciplines that I practice(d) gave me the confidence to emerge quickly in that industry, stand up for what I want, build precious relationships, work as a team and close complex negotiations. More classical: women have to find the right balance between personal and professional lives – personal including themselves but also their family! I have 2 young kids who are 100% part of the equation.
If you could share one piece of advice what would it be?
Marine: Never think that you are in your position because (meaning “thanks to the fact that”) you’re a woman. Instead, think about what you can do from there to make a difference and inspire others, regardless of their gender, into hiring and promoting more women in leadership positions. This is by proving that of course it is possible, that the easiest and quickest change can happen.
Liz: I think the most important thing is to believe in yourself. Confidence comes from knowing your subject inside out and making sure you become an authority on it. For that to really work you need to have purpose and passion for what you do. I have been fortunate enough that being a woman has never affected or compromised my opportunities. I believe it helps that I am focused and know what I want: It’s difficult to slow or stop someone who is on-a-mission.
What is your personal relationship with sports?
Liz: I have always loved sports and although I spent many years working in a gym I was always naturally more drawn to team sports and outdoor sports. In saying that the gym has always been a pillar for my workout regime even though it has never been what truly delights me. In simple terms, I love to play. Partaking in anything that can be classified as a game that one plays (eg. tennis, football, basketball, etc.), is usually a moment of pure enjoyment for me. What I really love is the competition and the camaraderie that comes with team sports. I have played football since I was eight years old (in those days I was in a boys team as there were no girls teams). I remember the butterflies in my tummy at the start of a match… I’ve always imagined it feels similar to what an artist feels when standing in front of a blank canvas with a box of paints and paintbrushes… ready to splash out their creativity. That element of surprise and creation is something that I love. I am always looking to learn new skills and nothing better to learn new ways to bend and move one’s body. It is so important for physical and mental health. I really appreciate any sports that submerge you into nature. Things like surfing and snowboarding are both wonderful ways to exercise as you always have more to learn and there is a sense of wilderness and freedom that enriches the experience and makes it so rewarding.
Marine: I have always been a (very – as my parents tell!) active person. So naturally I started sports in a club at the age of 3. It was dancing then I added gymnastics and pursued both activities at a regional and national level until I was 18. Always in teams. The spirit of winning together is the best motivation of all. In parallel, I also enjoy adding more variety, depending on my mood. I played football for 2 years with my brother and enjoy seasonal sports like skiing in Winter and surfing in Summer. Sports have always been a way for me to find the right balance at any stage of my life. Balance to eat more chocolate when it was the need, balance to get away from too much stress (from exams or work), or more recently a way to find a new balance into this pandemic and its harsh psychological consequences.
Thank you both for taking the time to speak with me and sharing your experiences.