In this special episode for International Women’s Day, four women who are passionate about athletics come together in conversation to celebrate, reflect, discuss barriers and where they would like to see change in the sport. Former international medallists Jenny Meadows and Kelly Massey are joined by respected coaches Sharon Morris and Janice Kaufman.
Jenny Meadows is a former European indoor champion over 800m who now plays an important role in British Athletics’ Futures Programme. She’s also turned to broadcasting over the last few years and has recently become a mum. She talks about the pride in what she’s achieved:
“All those dark moments, the injuries, the times when you don’t think you’re going to do well, I was really proud of my character and my determination. I’m so grateful that I got a few moments of my own where you actually thought “I’ve reached the peak of my career”. All those down moments, they were so worth it.”
She also talks about the pressure for female athletes to succeed when she first broke into the GB senior squad:
“The British team was very male-dominated. It’s so nice to see the reverse now. Females are really winning the medals, being the most successful. At a pivotal point in my career, seeing it being dominated by males, was a barrier to me believing that I could be one of the best.”
Kelly Massey is a former 400m runner and a mainstay in successful British relay teams in recent years. She is now a UK Anti-Doping educator who also does research around elite athlete mothers.
“Seeing them shine and come into their own as they become new mothers and go back into the sport and achieve and the idea of this ‘post-baby PB’, it’s just really inspiring.”
Kelly Massey says a university professor was surprised to learn she had a female athletics coach – “He was really confused that I had a female coach. A lot of people would automatically assume that your coach would be male.”
Sharon Morris has worked for British Athletics for 16 years. She oversees GB teams at international age group championships as a Team Manager and is also a coach with Birchfield Harriers. “When I started my coaching journey, there weren’t many coaches that looked like me.”
“My proudest moment was in 2018 when I won coach of the year with Birchfield Harriers and also the first black female coach.”
Janice Kaufman is a Non-Executive Director on the England Athletics board. A coach with Gateshead Harriers as well as an official, she won a BBC Unsung Sporting Heroes award together with her son for the legacy they have created at her club.
“My proudest moment was winning the North East and Cumbria BBC Sports Personality Unsung Hero Award. It was a joint award with me and my son.”
Janice says not being taken seriously has been a barrier for her to overcome as a female coach:
“I remember the tutor asking me why I’d bother wasting my money going for Level 3 when I’d probably drop out once my son did.”
“Sometimes I’d be the only female in the room. A lot has changed over the 20 years since I’ve been coaching, it’s got better. But still when I talk to women coaches at national championships, several of them say that they suffer from imposter syndrome and don’t think they deserve to be there.”
On driving progress for women in the sport
“When you go and represent England and you were given kit, it was always male kit. It never fitted properly. (You were stood alongside a chap who had a nice-fitting tracksuit and because I’m tall and slim, I had youth’s trousers which were half way up my legs and the sleeves were halfway down my hand. I look a bit of a rag bag!) I really pushed so that we could get women’s sizes. England Athletics has taken that on board and we are getting women’s sizes now which I think is something to celebrate.”
Sharon Morris on attracting more diverse female coaching opportunites: “We need to be present and we need to be visual or else we won’t get many female coaches of different minorities coming through the sport.
“We’ve seen changes in contracts, we’ve seen changes in products that are available to suit pregnant women doing sport, we’ve seen changes in UK Sport funding so you can’t be dropped from funding if you get pregnant. I supported with the documentation that has come out around guidance for pregnant mothers who are athletes.”
Jenny Meadows on supporting mothers in the sport as described by Kelly – “It’s staggering that these are recent developments. It comes down to role models, people have got to be pioneers. I do think there is some good recognition and some really good initiatives. Ultimately things are only going to change for females if males come on board, which has been really good. At governance levels, there are gender equity quotas. World Athletics and European Athletics are doing it. We should put ourselves forward for things.”
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