BLOG: My feminist quest has to be bigger than me…

Coach Laura-Turner Alleyne is a Sprints, Hurdles & Combined Events Coach working with many organisations and individuals. She has been coaching full time since 2014, following a successful ten year career as an International Sprinter. Her greatest sporting achievement is competing at the Beijing Olympics (2008) in the 100m and is now using her knowledge and experience to guide the next generation of Olympians.

Below is Laura’s blog written for International Women’s Day 2022.

Anyone who knows me or follows my social media, will know that I am growing increasingly aware of gender bias affecting women. To answer the question, am I a feminist? 

“I am a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. I’d be stupid not to be on my own side” – Maya Angelou

Every year when International Women’s Day comes around, we see social media campaigns that do a great job of raising awareness of amazing females, highlighting the great work they have done and continue to do. But what happens on the 9th March? The campaigns finish and we go back to the status quo?

I do feel the world is starting to pay attention to many biases that exist, whether it conscious or unconscious. Is ‘paying attention to’ enough? No, the answer is no, it is not. So how do we move from highlighting these biases to taking action to change behaviour and culture?

I think the first step is calling it out when you see it. The number of times I have called out sexist or racist behaviour/comments has often been met with complete ignorance to the act. How can we hope to change our culture if people are completely unaware they are acting like this AND they are carrying on un-challenged? 

The sad truth is, when you do call these behaviours out, it often leads to further bias. As a female, if I speak up to challenge or draw attention to something I am regularly confronted with disgruntled men who cannot believe I have had the audacity to raise the issue. 

A few years ago, I would’ve told you I have not been subject to gender bias. Now having been coaching for a little longer and spending more time reading around feminism, I can tell you I have and continue to be, on an almost daily basis. I have heard some terrible stories from female colleagues about how they have been treated in our sport. If you would like to understand more about the kind of behaviours I am talking about, read this report “Achieving Gender Equity in High Performance Athletics Coaching in the UK”. 

My experience of gender bias certainly hasn’t been as extreme as some of those stories …..

  • A male official addressing only the 2 men in a group of 4 coaches, handing them relevant event info and completely ignoring the 2 female coaches.

  • Emails sent only to me regarding out of place equipment, the only female coach out of the 4-5 coaches who use the same equipment.

  • Raising a point and it going unnoticed in a meeting, only for a male colleague to raise the exact same point minutes later and for it to be recognised.

  • Male coach coming over and coaching an athlete while I’m coaching them.

  • Rooming with a female colleague when all male colleagues have their own room. 

  • Being told what the athletes I’m coaching are doing wrong, rather than asking what we are working on to provide context. To be fair, that’s just poor coaching etiquette. An example of presumed authority and higher knowledge. 

If you’re reading these examples and wondering if you’ve done this. You probably have. 

These are small examples and may not seem like a big deal but imagine being constantly looked over, talked over, wrongly blamed, assumed stupid ……… on a daily basis. It gets tiring. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not need a pity party, far from it. I am doing very well (if I say so myself) but what about the women who are missing opportunities, what about the young women I am coaching, what about the female athletes who see this behaviour day in day out?

I am pretty certain I will get to where I want to be in life, I am too stubborn not too. I have realised the only way to create change, is to be the change. 

“Collective power begins in unleashing the power of each individual” – Amy Wambach

My personal mantra is ‘Make an impact. Leave a legacy’.

“I’m less interested in banging down the door of some man who doesn’t want me there. I’m more about building my own house” – Ava DuVernay (first black to direct a film nominated for best picture Oscar).

I am fortunate to have male allies who are not threatened by my challenge, can see my worth and the value I bring. This is the only way we are going to start changing culture. Scarcity mindset sees women fighting for one seat at the table, in the words of Amy Wambach again, “we need to build a bigger table”.

My feminist quest has to be bigger than me. It has to be about raising up the women around me and inspiring the next generation of fabulous females.