I was ten years old the first time I became aware of established gender roles and barriers. When I lived in Venezuela, I wanted to play with the guys. They were faster, played more aggressively, were more skilled, and loved the game as much as I did. Initially, there was some resistance from the boys—they didn’t want a girl slowing the game down. They picked me last, called me names, and bullied me. It was the first time it really hit me that I was going to have new challenges succeeding among men. So I had to earn their respect. Females face many challenges while entering male-dominated fields, especially building relationships. I had to prove I was one of them. I molded myself and developed certain qualities to fit in. I wanted to prove that I was as qualified, talented, skilled, resilient as any of the other players on the team, regardless of gender. And I did. After several months I felt no different than them, on and off of the field. This chapter of my life taught me that gender barriers are only real if you believe they are. To succeed in male-dominated industries, we need to prove that we are equally as qualified and skilled as any of our male counterparts.
Progress starts with awareness that females can be as successful and accomplished as men in leadership roles and male-dominated industries. Thanks to the evolution and proliferation of social media platforms, we have seen a massive emergence of female role models. We’ve seen an increase in the number of articles, podcasts, videos, and film that highlight female leaders not only in fitness but also in a variety of fields including technology, construction, mining, and science. The visibility of female role models plays an important role in inspiring, encouraging and motivating other women to pursue similar journeys, as well as proving that success in male-dominated systems is something achievable.
The value of representation can affect an entire generation. Studies show that women who watched the show “The X-Files” in the 1990s were 63% more likely to work in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries. At the time, a woman character like Dana Scully had never been depicted on TV before, which influenced generations of women to enter the field of science and technology. Seeing a strong, smart and fierce woman on equal standing with her male colleague sent a powerful message to the world.
We are experiencing a similar effect in the current fitness space. It used to be the ultimate insult to tell someone they “run like a girl,” “lift like a girl,” or “punch like a girl.” Yet, time after time, females continue to rise above barriers, break stereotypes, push the envelope, and challenge what we once thought was possible in both gender-neutral and male-dominated sports. Women’s roles in sports have changed significantly over the years. Recently, females have made huge strides in gaining equal representation and access; Ronda Rousey, Danica Patrick, Serena Williams, Dana Linn Bailey, and Lindsey Vonn come to my mind as women who have been at the forefront of female empowerment in sports by breaking stereotypes and putting themselves out there in a way that inspires girls around the world to unapologetically follow their passions.
A strong, muscular female in a position of authority in the strength and conditioning world is far from the norm. Some people have yet to adjust to it. I succeeded in moving against the grain, but I encountered resistance along the way. I broke world records. I built a thriving business that continues to help thousands of people around the world get stronger and healthier. The weights were heavy, but I still lifted them. The barriers were heavily reinforced, but I still broke them. Shifting societal norms is a long and cumbersome process that creates a tremendous amount of friction, but we can move it forward with a shared vision, unwavering commitment, and the right mindset. Keep these pieces of advice in mind as you pursue a career in a male-dominated industry, or challenging the status quo in your own unique way.
You need to have the courage to take risks, speak up, and be heard. When it comes to careers, women are often risk averse, and when there are few or no female role models this issue tends to be magnified. Take on a role that’s outside of your comfort zone and learn how to do the job well. If I had the courage to take risks, put myself out there, speak in panels and podcasts in an industry dominated by male influence, you can have the courage to do whatever you want too.
Find a Mentor
Find a coach, a mentor, or someone who encourages you and pushes you to pursue your biggest goals and boldest dreams. Mentoring is invaluable in helping us dig deep and find the courage to keep going in tough situations. I’ve been lucky to develop deep relationships with some of the OGs in the industry, and have the support of my partner and friends to keep going when things get rough.
It’s like getting a dog or having a kid—either you’re in or you’re out, there’s no in-between. If I gave up the first time someone made me feel bad about my pursuit, my body, my profession, my intellect or education, I wouldn’t be writing this article now. Commitment goes beyond your individual goal. It’s about improving as a professional and as an athlete, but also about improving the industry as a whole.
Grow a Thick Skin
Fake it till you make it. Pretend you have a thick skin even when you feel totally vulnerable. People will judge you no matter what you do, don’t take it personally. Brush negative comments off and keep working hard toward your goals.
Whether it’s a competition, a job interview, a panel discussion, or whatever you are pursuing, always overdeliver. Confidence begins with preparation. As Seneca wrote, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Make the most of every opportunity you’ve been given; you might not get another.
I hope this inspires all of you, male or female, to take on new challenges, climb steeper mountains, and dig deeper in the pursuit of excellence. See you in the trenches.