ChairWOMAN: Elaine Forrest on gender equality in sports leadership

Each March all around the world communities pause and take a step back to appreciate and celebrate the achievements of women both historically and in the present day. Within athletics and running, we are lucky to be surrounded by inspirational women in the athletes we support, the coaches, officials, parents, and volunteers who dedicate their time to make our sport what it is today.

We recently caught up with coaching extraordinaire and club chair, Elaine Forrest who along with her team built the successful Brentwood Beagles into the fantastic club it is today. Let’s get to know Elaine!

For Elaine, like many in our sport, she has dedicated her life to athletics and is heavily involved in not only her club, but also her region as a regional councillor, coach, official, and inclusion lead. As well as all of this, she is also a mum to two enthusiastic female middle distance runners!

Being a strong female leader

Athletics and running is one of the most inclusive sports, welcoming people of all ages, abilities an demographics to take part, whether that be as a participant or volunteer but there is still some improvements to be made:

“The landscape of gender equality within athletics is evolving but there is still a way to go. While we've seen progress with more women participating in athletics at all levels, from grassroots to elite athletes, leadership roles and coaching positions are areas where gender disparity is still evident. However, the increasing visibility of women in these roles is encouraging and has been pushed by a broader societal push for gender equality.”

In order to continue her personal development as a leader and chair, Elaine recently attended the England Athletics Club Leadership Programme.

“Athletics clubs aren’t just about training people in athletics, they are mini communities responsible for the health and welfare of all. No one has all the answers about the best way of doing things, so seeking help from others, sharing ideas and getting support from others really helps in building a supportive culture through the athletics community.”

Overcoming challenges

As a busy mum, coach, volunteer and chair, it can be challenging to fit it all in as Elaine explained, but with the right positive people around you, it is possible to achieve. “Like many women, I face common challenge and I strive to overcome stereotypes about women's leadership capabilities when balancing a busy life. I choose to remain oblivious to other people’s perceptions and focus on getting things done."

"I find that proving I am capable, willing to work as part of a team and being good at delivering successful outcomes quickly changes wrong perceptions!  Becoming the chair at Brentwood Beagles was less of a challenge and I attribute this to the quality of the team we assembled and their attitude towards the common purpose and shared goals.”

Advice to women all over the country

“Believe in your abilities and don’t be afraid to speak up, step forwards and ask for help when you need it. Every single time I have become involved in some aspect of athletics, I have been welcomed with open arms and found incredibly supportive people to ask for advice or answer my questions. Embrace opportunities for learning and growth and don't be afraid to challenge the status quo. Remember, your unique perspectives and experiences are invaluable in driving positive change within your clubs and the broader athletics community.”

The importance of International Women’s Day

Although women should be celebrated every day for their contributions, expertise and role they play, International Women’s Day is the perfect time to pause and take a step back.

“For me, International Women's Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women across all spheres of life while also reflecting on the journey towards gender equality. In the context of athletics, it's a reminder of how far we've come but a critical reminder of the work that remains to be done, for the sake of my daughter’s, all the female athletes at our club and every woman involved in athletics.”

More inspirational women in the athletics and running community