Last week, in celebration of International Women’s Day, we facilitated a series of workshops, hosted by female employees across the company for all to attend. Our headline speaker was special guest Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, DBE, who joined us to discuss her achievements as a global ambassador for disability sport, a crossbench peer in the House of Lords, and a highly respected and acclaimed athlete.
Following an inspiring, engaging talk which touched on a number of topics – including social media harassment against female MPs, duty of care in professional sport, and the importance of achieving a balanced culture in work and in life – Tanni opened the floor, inviting questions from PHMG staff.
At the moment, PHMG is placing an emphasis on wellbeing. What are your top tips on looking after ourselves better?
80% of women are not fit enough to be healthy; it’s important to find time in your week to be physically active, but that doesn’t help you outrun a bad diet – although you might be able to eat a few more biscuits. As an athlete, your job is to be at peak physical performance – achieving that balance between sleeping, eating and training. It’s important to be able to recognise those weeks when you need to restore the balance, and find time for yourself – even if it’s just half an hour. So for me, if I’m having a hard time working on a speech or writing legislation, that’s when I hit the gym – it gives me time away from everything else, doing something I enjoy.
What do you think the biggest differences are in attitudes towards women in sports versus politics?
Female athletes get less public grief than female MP’s, although there is a lot of pressure surrounding sponsorships. The stats from the 2012 Olympics show that of the top ten earners, only two were women, and they’re more likely to get deals from beauty brands and things like that – although a men’s football club does now represent Nivea! You’re also expected to present in a different way – competing whilst looking beautiful, not red and sweaty. That presents a challenge for younger women who don’t enjoy looking or feeling that way – the life of a female athlete is very different.
If you could go back and give your 20-year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
There’s a part of me that would like to say “pick your battles,” because I haven’t always been very good at that. However, the battles I’ve picked have made me who I am. I find it difficult to regret things, but there are conversations that I’ve learned to have differently. For example, when I was pregnant I discovered there are quite a lot of people who thought that because I’m disabled I shouldn’t be allowed to have children. I remember a woman coming up to me in the street, asking me how I got pregnant and poking me in the stomach, so I screamed at her in the middle of Cardiff High Street. Now I know when to let it go, and see how everyone else is reacting in the room. So, I’d probably tell my 20-year old self to think before she speaks.
Did you have any role models growing up, or did you feel like you had to carve your own path?
There are a few people, but they’re actually all men because when I was growing up, there was so little women’s sport on TV. I remember watching Gareth Edwards on the TV and thinking he was the greatest thing to walk the earth, both on and off the pitch.
Another inspiration was an amazing wheelchair racer called Chris Hallam – he was loud, rude, obnoxious and had appalling taste in leopard-print lycra bodysuits, and he also helped me as I was becoming more well-known, and encouraged me to speak out about athlete’s rights, saying ‘If you’re winning medals, you speak for everyone else.’ He was amazing, he helped me find my voice. Young women don’t look at elite athletes the way young men do. Men want to be their sporting icon, but young women just want to be themselves and find their voice. It’s important for us to help them find their place.
You’ve overcome a lot in your lifetime, which demonstrates serious resilience. How can companies like ours teach people to build up their resilience, particularly for women working in a sales-orientated workplace?
Resilience is really hard to build, because you build it through being challenged. For me, I’m really self-critical, so even when I competed and did well, I was always thinking about how I could have done better. It was really important for me to have someone to have that critical conversation with, and look at the good and the bad. In work, there isn’t always time to be reflective, so you can quickly spiral – so you need a certain amount of aptitude in your role, but you also need to find a way of talking to others when things aren’t going right. Talk to anyone who is successful and they’ll have had plenty of times when they felt like they couldn’t do it; people who seem successful are just really good at hiding their failures – that’s not the reality. Ultimately, you have to believe in what you do, and respect the people around you.
With Tokyo coming up, household names are about to be made overnight. Are young athletes given enough education on the pitfalls of social media, fame, etc?
When athletes go into the holding camp, they’re advised to shut down their socials, because everyone will have an opinion on their performance. So they have support there, the problem is what happens if you’re an overnight success and suddenly get a lot of media coverage. At first it’s great – but when you’re out of that limelight, it’s not easy to deal with. You need people around you to tell you you’re not just a sportsperson – you’re lots of other things, too. When you’re winning, everyone wants to be your mate – when you’re not winning, nobody wants to talk to you, and I think they need more support with dealing with that. It’s also important to let young athletes know that only 2% of athletes actually earn any money, and you’re retired for a really long-time, so you need to think about other things you can do with your life.
In a recent podcast, Ian Wright spoke about listening to Mozart before a match to calm his nerves. In your sporting career, was there any music you tuned into pre-competition or while training to help you achieve your best?
I used to listen to music when I was training on the treadmill because it’s so dull. There was one set of tests, where a couple of times a year you have to sit on the treadmill for an hour and a half, and I used to just put ‘Another Day in Paradise’ by Phil Collins on repeat. So I used music a lot in training, but never before competing. One of my best mates lost her Walkman in warm-up. It was part of her process, so she was destroyed – and since then, I’ve never listened to music in warmup, just in case the batteries die or something, and it affects my process. I’m a big 80’s music fan; the Eurhythmics, Soft Cell, the Cure… I’m more likely to listen to that music whilst I’m writing a difficult speech. It helps calm me down.
If not music, what gets you motivated?
I like to be at the warm-up track really early, because what if the bus breaks down, or something happens? If I was competing at 9.30am, I’d want to be there at 6.30am, it made me a lot calmer. I just like to be early and settled. And about two hours before I compete, I sit by myself. Then there’s the usual routine of stretching and drinking water, all in a certain order. But the most important thing for me was making sure I felt comfortable about the race, and not stressed out and panicking about all the things that could go wrong.
Thank you to Tanni for joining us as part of our International Women’s Day Celebrations – and to all the women who make PHMG the world’s leading audio branding agency.