Personal stories and why they matter

2014-09-19 04.27.18

This week, the SheSaysMCR team hosted our third event of the year. We were talking personal stories and what they mean to us.

As a team, we were very conscious of the fact that we wanted to break the all too normal mode of introducing yourself based on what you do, what you’ve achieved — your CV. We wanted to show our attendees that they’re so much more than just their role and to start having confidence in telling the story that has made them who they are.

We had an incredible line up of speakers. We kicked off with Stacey Copeland, who has represented England on an international stage as both a footballer and professional boxer.

Stacey started off by telling us about her childhood. As a little girl, Stacey was always into sports but had to pretend to be a boy to play football because there were no mixed teams or girl teams around. She told us about all the grief and bullying she received at school for being a Tom boy (something she was clear we all had to own) and people assumed she wanted to be a boy.

Stacey told us about the male role models she had growing up, her dad and her grandad, both of whom would take her to boxing ring and gym three times a week. However, at that time it was illegal for women to box — let alone little girls — so she could do all the training in the world but had to sit ringside when it came to throwing punches.

But punches she did throw. Stacey went through her personal story of self confidence and understanding herself. She told us about how she realised there was nothing wrong with being confident about your abilities, about wanting to change what you can’t accept and about challenging peoples bias and sexism.

There are a few things that really stood out for me from Stacey’s talk:

Sexism in sports has improved but has a long way to go

Despite all of her achievements representing England, Stacey explained how she’s still not recognised for sporting abilities. She told us about when she received her letter to represent England in the women’s world cup but couldn’t get time off work so was forced to take a holiday.

She told us how she hasn’t received her belt for winning the Commonwealth Title — the first British woman to ever do so — because they only make replica belts for women and the manufacturer has stopped.

She told us how she hasn’t been able to represent Great Britain at the Olympics, despite qualifying, because women’s boxing only has 3 weight categories compared to the mens 10.

All of these things need to change. All of them. Yes, women can finally box — a change Stacey has seen happen in her life time, but it’s not enough. Things still aren’t equal.

We all have a role to play in making sure women in sports are recognised as athletes

One thing I personally took away, was that I need to do more to promote women in sports. I love football, scratch that, I watch mens football. If I think it’s that sports is unequal, I need to take more responsibility for supporting female athletes and doing what I can do promote women’s sports.

I can remember tweeting about the Women’s England Football team during this year’s world cup and facing quite a bit of backlash for turning football into a sex issue. The fact is, when we think sports, we’re often thinking about men’s sports and that is a problem. It should be sports for everyone.

Surround yourself with people who say the right thing, at the right time to lift you up when you’re feeling down

During the Q&A following Stacey’s talk, someone asked her how she pulls herself up when she’s lost a fight, what does she do when she feels down. She mentioned that she has four or five people that she knows she can call, not to tell her what she wants to hear but who can say the right thing, at the right time.

That really stuck with me, how important it is to have people who know what to say when times are tough. It’s probably something we all take for granted, to truly understand what people need from us when they’re at their lowest.

Our second and final speaker of the night was Jess Winters. Jess is a trans woman who openly speaks about her transition and what it was like for her to realise who she is. Jess took us on a journey to explain her story of where she has come from to where she is now. Jess spoke about her mental health and her suicide attempt when she was a teenager, through to leaving home and getting married and having her first child (when she was a husband, not a wife). It was amazing to hear a personal story, that was personal, brave and incredibly inspirational. Jess was received with cheering and a warm round of applause from a crowd who wanted to hear more and support Jess as she continues her journey to get back into public speaking and to encourage more people to speak out about their journeys.

Jess’ talk left me feeling humbled and inspired to do more to listen and support people around me. It was hard to think of just three of my biggest learnings but they were:

Help give people a voice by listening to them

It’s so easy to keep listening to people who say things we agree with, already know or easily understand. It’s also fine to do that. But it’s also important to listen to the people we don’t often hear from, the stories we don’t often hear.

Everyone has a voice and a story to tell and it’s our job to listen and learn from the people around us. The more we can listen and learn from others, the more we can understand and empathise with difference.

When people give you the opportunity to ask questions, take it

Jess was amazing and opened her talk to any and all questions at the end of the event. She wanted people to ask questions that she might have been offended by, because she wanted people to learn more about what it’s like to be trans and encourage people to learn more.

I thought it was an incredible thing to do and it made me realise how important it is to ask questions when given the chance to and to be open to people asking questions when they’re trying to learn more about you. It’s the only way to learn.

Safe spaces are important, no matter what people say

I’ve recently faced a bit of backlash for using the phrase safe space. Now, more than ever, I think they’re important. It’s important to create an environment that people can feel free from judgement, from argument and safe to speak about their personal stories, feelings and emotions. It’s important because people need to a place to have conversations that they don’t feel they can have in other environments.

The focus being on conversations, not just a place where everyone agrees but somewhere we’re people feel comfortable asking questions and speaking about the things that are important to them.

As always, it was another incredible instalment of SheSaysMCR. I thought it would be a good time to end this article with a huge shout out to all of the speakers we’ve ever had at SheSaysMCR including:

Stacey Copeland — International Boxing Champion

Jessica Winters — CTO

Naomi Timperley

Lou Cordwell — CEO and Founder Magnetic North

Ines Lopez — Service Designer — Hyper Island

Stephanie Wedderburn — Founder — Blockworks

Lizzie Dyson — UX Designer — Rental Cars

Monica Tailor — Senior Digital Account Director — McCann

Michelle Hua — Founder — Made With Glove

Vimla Appadoo (Me)

Tash Wilcocks — Programme Leader — Hyper Island

Dinal Limbachia — Programme Manager He For She — UN

Rakhi Sina — Eventbrite

Clem Herman — Senior Lecturer Computing and Communications — Open University

Rebecca Rae-Evans

Tamsin Chislett — ClearlySo

Lauren Currie — Co-Founder — Snook

Dr Delia Vazquez**— **Senior Lecturer in Retail Marketing in the School of Materials

Sarah Bromley — Service Designer — FutureGov

Qing Qing Chen — strategist, producer, and writer with a beat on design and China.

Paulina Sygulska — Co-Founder — GrantTree

Rita Cervetto — Digital Strategist

Gabrielle Iskandar

Michelle Gyimah — Diversity Consultant

Saadia Choudry is Head of Special Projects and Strategic Alliances at CANDDi

Maria Mayor — Co-Founder — Amity

Becca Taylor — Founder — Curiosity Bureau

Cat Teague — Yoga Up

Eirian Collinge — Yoga teacher

Natalia Silveira — People Lead — ThoughtWorks

Neha Rahman **— **Business analyst — ThoughtWorks

Lisa Murgatroyd — Community Manager — Accelerated Places

Reclaim Group

Katie Harrison

Aine McTiernan — Programme Lead — PWC

Diane Reddell — Software Developer — DWP

Adaobi Adibe

Rosie Moth — CMO — The Red Seven Group

Kirsty Styles — The Reader

Chelsea Slater — Founder — Liverpool Girl Geek and Innovate Her

Tracy Bessant — Barclays

Nikky Norton-Shafau

Kat Palmer — Innovation Manager — Emerald

Gemma McCall — Director — Trust

Apologies to our valued speakers who might not be on the list, we lost some of our data and event history but let me know and I’ll get you up here!