Six Ways to Be a Better Advocate for Women in SportFeb 16, 2022
We need to make space for women- and not only make space- we need to invite women, give them permission.” - Kristi Mohn
by Sara Gross
As the owner of a women-led media company and someone who has been vocal about the need to create equal access for women at the Ironman World Championship, I am often asked by business owners, race directors and marketing professionals to help them solve their “women problem.”
This “women problem” is defined by a lack of women attending their event or buying their product. Occasionally there is a dose of fear mixed in. Fear of the perception of not doing something about said “women problem.” And often it’s a bit of both.
The need to solve this “women problem” often comes from a good place, a desire to create equal opportunity, a brand or event where everyone feels included.
In my experience, many of these well-meaning folks are looking for an easy answer like, “make your product pink,” and tend to glaze over as they realize what it really takes to be inclusive.
Because the truth is that to truly bring women into spaces where they have felt excluded, or to sell products to women, you have to respect and be mindful of women. And you have to care at every level of your organization- from executive leadership, to product development to sales and marketing.
And it’s not just business owners who want to be better advocates. Amongst my peers, fellow entrepreneurs and change-makers, we all want to be better, both for ourselves and for other historically excluded groups. But how can we be effective advocates without being awkward or condescending?
There is no bandaid solution, and answers may not be simple or easy. (And once and for all, unless you’re raising money for breast cancer research, making your product pink is not the answer.)
As my friend Kelly O’Mara often says, “Try actually caring about women. That’s a good starting point.”
But what does that mean? What are the tangible ways we can show we care?
This week on the Feisty Women’s Performance Podcast I spoke with Kristi Mohn. Kristi is a long time advocate for women in gravel cycling (though she might object to that label) and more recently is behind the movement to include a non-binary category in all of LifeTime’s races. When I asked her if she got push back, her message to dissenters was “Get over it, it’s a bike race.”
During my conversation with Kristi, I realized that some of her experiences as an advocate were similar to mine and some themes were apparent.
So here is a list of some of the simple things I’ve learned about how to be an advocate. (Please note- This is FAR from a complete list, please feel free to add in the comments)
I mean, this rule should apply to any human interaction, but in this case, if someone tells you their experience of feeling excluded (even if they are angry or upset), believe them. Everyone has the right to interpret their own experience. Gaslighting is not helpful. Just listen and try to understand where they are coming from.
A good example of effectively making space is when race directors hold open a certain number of spots just for women. This takes away the pressure of having to be at your computer when registration opens, especially if you are balancing a job and taking care of kids- for example.
Sometimes it’s just not enough to say “women are welcome here, come on in.” When we’re talking about spaces that certain groups have historically been excluded from, it might take a personal invitation.
Support female leaders
We often think about creating a culture for women and we jump to starting our own thing. There are already women leading in the communities you want to impact. Find them and learn to be a good partner. Propping up a woman leader is also a great way to avoid coming across as patronizing.
Whatever you think you know about “women” will only be true for some women.
Ultimately, every woman is unique. There is no one way to define the word “woman” and there are approximately four billion different ways to be a woman in this world. Accept that as a starting point.
You will sometimes get it wrong.
A willingness to be wrong just generally comes in handy in life. It’s ok if you accidentally made decisions in the past that excluded certain people. Learn and move on. That’s all we can ever do.
Check out the full conversation with leader and advocate extraordinaire Kristi Mohni over on your podcast app.
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