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Representation Brings Inspiration

The England women's game last night was more than just football.

When I was younger, I was obsessed with football. I had a season ticket at Ipswich Town with my Dad and going to our matches was the highlight of my week. I have been fortunate to travel around the country following Ipswich as well as numerous games watching Arsenal (my Mum is a gooner!) and England. It was all I thought about at school and basically, wherever I was, I wished I was watching/playing football instead. I played football for some local teams and I would think of how amazing it would be to be a footballer. Getting paid to do something you love so much. But, here's the thing: I dreamt of being Richard Naylor, Freddie Ljungberg, John Terry, Dennis Bergkamp... (I played in defence but you bet I dreamt of being further up top!) and this meant I looked up to men. I aspired to be men and therefore knew I couldn't do that. That's all I could see for the representation.

I had a pretty terrible injury in a game when I was 16 where I tore all the ligaments and tendons in my ankle and when I went to go back in to the game, the fear of doing it again and suddenly having to play women's senior football after a year out brought me this question:

"What is the point?"

I remember saying to my Dad, what is the point of going through all the fear and pain, risking that injury all over again (I had already injured it the year before and the recent injury then triggered alopecia areata which at 16 wasn't my favourite!) when I have no future here?

As the adult I am now, with more awareness of the world, resilience, understanding the love should have prevailed over the fear - but as a teenager, I saw no path that showed value to keep trying.

I recall pundits, and even people I knew, moaning about 'women in a man's game' and constantly felt like I was a novelty, as a female football fan. Men would question me as if I had to prove I liked football or worse, they thought Dad was just bringing me for a day out because he had to. Now, let me just say, there are many a game I have been sat there in freezing temperatures, watching a less than wonderful performance, questioning why I am there... but the beautiful game can be an undeniably love/hate relationship!

Why is this relevant to my company, to workplace wellbeing? Well, ultimately it's about inclusivity. Last night a nation of females got to see pundits, officials, coaches and professional footballer players that were all women.

We will inspire a generation of females to stay in sport, where data has suggested "64% of girls will have quit sports by the age of finishing puberty (16-17)".

We can change this.

Because of game's like last night, maybe young girls are running around the playground pretending to be Leah Williamson, Fran Kirby, Beth Mead... Maybe there's now a girl standing in her room pretending to be on television commentating sport dreaming to be Alex Scott... Maybe a young girl has just googled "how to become a referee"...

I am not saying women can't still admire the males in our sport, but don't we deserve to see women icons too?

It got me thinking - often I don't think you can really appreciate the value of inclusivity and representation, unless you are a person who suffers from not seeing yourselves in the places you wish you could be.

I questioned, if I had seen this, had this available to me, as a young person - would I have pushed harder in the sport I love so much? Could it have offered me the career pathway I didn't feel was possible at that time?

It's not just about male/female, it got me thinking about those with disabilities, different races or ethnicities and how often people minimise experiences of those who do not get to see themselves in their dream roles. Or maybe, they just don't even get to see themselves in supervisor roles in their local companies. Maybe they don't see themselves in adverts, media, politics...

In a Steven Bartlett Diary of a CEO podcast he references a young person he met, who was talking about his aspirations and he said:

“It’s hard to be something that you can’t see”.

In football, specifically, I have come to accept that I definitely am not going to be a pro footballer any time soon (I don't think my knees would allow it!) but I can do my part to help provide support and create change in the game where I can. I volunteer at a local football club and we speak frequently about our inclusivity and representation. I am starting the initiative of an exciting opportunity where we are bringing the voices of our female players forward this season to understand their experiences. We want them to see that their voice can be heard and is important, that it can make positive change.

Representation is not a token gesture to appease people. Representation creates respect, inspiration, courage, confidence and aspiration. Representation gives visibility to opportunities people otherwise thought they may not have had access to.

We have opportunities to inspire those around us and the future generations too by creating inclusive, respectful education, social and working environments. We can all play our part.

So I ask you to think, what can you do, with what is available to you, to contribute to positive change?

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