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  • Writer's pictureHelen

International Women's Day 2021 #choosetochallenge

We chose to seek out and celebrate female achievements in honour of this years International Women's Day: #choosetochallenge. We were lucky enough to catch up with two women in leadership whom we really admire; Joslyn Thompson Rule (Nike Global Master Trainer, Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, Podcast Host and Published Author) and Wendy Powell (Founder and CEO of leading global digital health tech platform MUTU System) Read their full interviews below.

First up, Jos:

Jos, when & why did you become involved in the fitness world?

So my first toe into coaching was in my third year at uni. When I went to uni, I felt very out of place and I started rowing – it was a very wealthy university, I was not wealthy and I just felt very out of place, lots of people there had been to private school, I hadn’t etc so I just felt weird. But then training gave me this strength that nobody could take away from me and very much gave me my identity. So then when I got to the third year I became captain of the ladies’ boat club (which was way posh!!), and there I got to experience taking novice rowers through to competing both during the head season and the regatta season. So what I got to do first hand was take people on that same experience I had been on of finding yourself through sport. I really enjoyed that process. When I finished university (my degree was four years in economics) it just made sense for me to go into fitness because it changed my life, I saw it change the life of others and I thought I would like to do that full time. I spent a year in Japan after uni teaching English and then I came back and became a PT (Personal Trainer).

What lead you to where you are today in your career?

OMG! When I first started out I did personal training and sports therapy, so in my earlier days I worked a lot with football teams and assisted the football physios. I learnt a lot on the job there which was great and went quite deep into rehabilitation and even still to this day I don’t know how I could separate the two. I think that sports therapy brain and rehab brain still interlaces so much of my movement work. And then probably about 7-8 years ago, Nike got in touch and wanted me to become one of their Master Trainers, which I did and have been with them for 11 years now and have done lots of different things with them like trainer education, worked on campaigns whether it be behind the scenes or on camera. I did a breadth of different work with them, but what I noticed about six years ago, having then been in the industry about 12-13 years, had trained both men and women and really felt like I knew who I was, my knowledge, what I was about etc but there were a couple of occasions where a male trainer got chosen over me for various jobs when I thought actually I was better qualified. That made me go ‘hmmm, OK’ I feel really confident in what I do, what is that then going to be like for female trainers coming into the industry now, which is different to how it was when I first started out because there was no social media, you could just get on and do your job. Your ‘brand’ was your profile board on the side of the gym and that was it – there wasn’t even such thing as a brand! So I thought, if I were starting out now, this is happening to me as someone who has experience, who feels knowledgeable, who’s confident in their knowledge, how is that going to feel for new trainers coming in? So I started a weekend event called the Women in Fitness Summit. What I was very mindful of at the time, five years ago, was that a lot of the coaches or women working in fitness who I knew weren’t necessarily at the forefront of social media but were excellent at what they did, had a ton of experience and I felt like that knowledge had to be bought forward. So it was really important to me that it was done on two sides, from the point of view from a coach but also that end user ie fitness enthusiasts. So I started to run the Women in Fitness Summit, first day was for fitness professionals and second day for fitness enthusiasts and it was important to me to bring all the incredible women who coach and work in fitness and wellness to also share their knowledge. So that was my first foray into helping women specifically. And then a few years after that I started a coaching mentorship for women called Be The Change and that is in it’s third year now, and that’s where I’m at! Oh, and I wrote a book (How to Move it)! And I have a podcast (Fitness Unfiltered)!

Now though what interests me is I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with a lot of trans-gender males or non-binary individuals preparing for their top surgery, to have their breasts removed, and I think that for me now in terms of who I work with individually, the movement basics and principles remain the same but the conversations can be, not different, but it’s still really important for me to communicate to them in a way that...... They feel different so much of the time, that I want them to feel, and me coming from a space that doesn’t know what it’s like to be them – I’m cis-gender – I am a female in a women’s body, and to come at them still from a place of empathy as much as I can and still get them to where they want to go because the science is the same but the approach is different. I learn so much along the way and then I still love working with people who have either been injured or coming back from injury. I love that process. I love the patience that has to go with it, and that learning and that getting to know your body because I think you can just learn so much from movement, so they’re my favourite kind of peeps!

How has your job changed, if at all, due to lockdown?

Oh gosh, well, we are on the zoom, a lot! Things like the mentorship haven’t changed as it was online anyway. Some PT (personal training) has, when we couldn’t see people in person or training people outside or whatever, I quite like the challenge of having to.... Whether you’re training someone on Zoom, you’re having to be really clear with the language that you use because I’m usually a very tactile trainer and very hands on. When I don’t have that, I really have to make sure that I’m communicating clearly in order to still get what I want them to get out of the session. So things have changed and I’m also not darting around like a mad woman as much as I was so I can only be grateful for that! I’m not in and out of town and I am happy for that. It’s been a good change of pace for me, now I’m like do I have to go into town and see people again today because frankly I’m enjoying this! So it’s been a really welcome break for me. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine earlier on & I was just saying that actually things like writing the book, that was something that I did in lockdown, and even doing more things on Zoom, I think there’s a level of if you’re doing a talk on Zoom or you’re coaching on Zoom you have to be in a way a bit more animated to make it whatever it needs to be. I was due to do a talk last year at UCD, they had a women’s conference there in April, and I was saying to my friend that talk now post lockdown, I would approach it in such a different way and actually be way more confident doing it than I would have been this time last year. So actually I think it’s enhanced how I deliver my work, so actually I am grateful for it. It was a really good year of growth and introspection for me and fundamentally overall, much better.

Part of the International Women's Day (IWD) initiative this year is to raise awareness against gender bias. Is this something that you have ever experienced in your career?

Yes! 100%! I am actually delivering a talk on exactly about that and it was only when I was having a conversation with this lady that I was like actually, wait a minute! Now that we’re talking about that, I totally did have an experience of that! It was where I was coaching at a gym and I was getting paid, I was getting free membership in return for my hours. A friend of mine then started working there and we were just cleaning up the gym at the end of one evening and he began telling me that his payment this month....... and I was like ‘sorry, what?! Pardon?! You get paid?!’ and he was like yeh, do you not?! And I said no I don’t! And actually it was a really good thing for me because one thing that I talk about and I teach, and I think it’s a really important thing for women specifically is around how we communicate, is around the language that we use, particularly when we’re asking for something. It was actually such a good lesson for me because I really looked into how was I going to have a conversation with the owner of this gym who at that point was living in America so it was going to be over the phone or via message, and I thought I need to communicate this well, clearly and like I mean business. So it was something I looked into. In the past sometimes if I had had to get rid of a client or something, I would look inward and think how can I possibly do this in the best way that I can? So, I really had to look into it and in the end I sent the gym owner a message that was very clear and concise and not wishy-washy; Hi, can we arrange a call to talk about me getting paid for the work that I do? And that was it, there was none of oh hi, I was just wondering etc and making myself look small, it was literally this is what I want and when can we talk about that? And then even when we were on the call he said yes sure no problem, lets do that. How about we start that from June? And this must have been May where there are two bank holiday weekends which I was working both of for the three days. So I said no, lets start it from May as I’m working extra days. It was a real lesson for me in how to ask for what you want, to understand what is acceptable and what is not. I asked for it and I got it and there was never any question. And I knew again it was one of those things where I knew my value, I knew what I was bringing to the table, I knew me and my friend were equally experienced and I asked for what I deserved and I got it and that was that. But if me and my friend hadn’t had that conversation, I would have just gone on happily working away! But I am really grateful for it as it taught me to communicate in a way to know your worth and don’t accept anything less. I think that a lot of people think that that can come across as really direct but it was unreasonable for him not to be paying me for the work I was doing and particularly when someone was getting paid for the very same work.

What does inclusivity mean to you, in your work, and how do you practise it?

I am always very aware that I only can know things from my own lived experience so I can never assume that I know how anybody else feels or what their lived experience is. What I try and do from the get-go of who I work with is to make sure that they feel seen when they first start working with me. Whether that is me sending across my health questionnaire and if it’s a gender thing, then there’s eg male, female, non-binary, transgender etc, you can click any box. For me, I’m bi-racial and I remember a few years ago, there wasn’t a box for bi-racial or mixed race, it was just Black, White, Asian, Other. I remember when I was at school I wrote a poem about being mixed race and part of the poem was ‘with no reference to your identity than ‘other’, that was the box I had to tick. Obviously now that’s changed for identity but it hasn’t yet changed in terms in gender. So little things like that to make sure that on the forms I’m making sure that everybody feels seen. Or even in terms of mental health, making sure that a lot of those conditions are there, so even if you don’t feel comfortable ticking a box, you know that I recognise that this is something that can affect you, so whether you feel comfortable talking about that or not, you know that I’m aware of it. So I think little pieces like that. People are not always necessarily going to share everything from the get-go but even things like ‘do you have a cycle?’, is that on every form? Potentially not. And a lot of women, as we know, don’t even think twice if they have or they don’t have one and aren’t aware of it. Or even pelvic floor health, have you had a pelvic health check? Even when I teach that on the mentorship when we do the women’s health module, at this stage I rarely even go into everything but I ask all the coaches have you had a pelvic floor check? Are you menstruating? Are you doing all of these things that are going to look after your health? And most of them will say, no haven’t had it done yet since we had the last call, I’ve been meaning to book it.... So I say we need to start that ourselves as coaches to have that information so that we can start to communicate that to others. And most coaches are not doing that as it’s still this taboo subject. So for me it’s about people seeing even that initial consultation form of it’s not just do you have high blood pressure? Or is there a family history of anything because your health is so much more than that. And also just recognising that different cultures for example effect things but everything effects everything, it’s just not a blanket approach at all.

If you were to #choosetochallenge one area of inequality this IWD, what would that be?

OMG! I think that I would #choosetochallenge probably, and this may not be the right answer but, to ourselves actually and it would be how we communicate. How we communicate to ourselves, how we communicate to others, because again if we talk around that language piece of eg use of the word ‘sorry’, turn ‘sorry I don’t agree’ into ‘no, I don’t agree’ or simply ‘I don’t agree’, it’s like we have to excuse ourselves and make ourselves tiny before we share our opinion because we don’t want to ruin that ‘good girl’ or ‘nice girl’ archetype. So I think it would be #choosetochallenge your own language both to yourself and outwardly. Now that I’ve done so much work around language, I get really annoyed when I hear beat-around-the-bush language! I’m just like, get straight to the point because this is killing me!

And finally, here at Umi we are really passionate about breaking down stereotypes, stigmas & taboo subjects around pelvic health. Has pelvic health or issues that are seen as women's health ever been a barrier in your job?

No, I don’t think so. I think there is a LOT of education still required around it, but it hasn’t been a barrier in my job. If anything, now, as people are starting to get to know more about it, if anything that’s going to be a positive thing that I get to help spread the word around and share my knowledge that I have about it, so it’s not been a barrier

And Wendy:

Wendy, where did the idea of MUTU come from?

The word MUTU originally comes from the term ‘mummy tummy’. MUTU was invented over 10 years ago when I sat down with a bottle of wine and my mum, and we wrote lots of words down on a piece of paper & eventually came up with MUTU System & it’s stuck ever since! The great thing is that MUTU has expanded, the customers have added to it so for example they call themselves the MUTU mummas!

What lead you to where you are today in your career?

It’s the culmination of 75,000+ customers is what lead us here. When I started this out, the first online MUTU system programme was sold in Oct/Nov 2010. Originally it was me in the back garden with a camera strapped to a tree and Google-ing how do you do this?! I built it all from scratch, the website, everything – Google was my friend! And we’ve built since then. MUTU has grown organically; we don’t have outside investors & never have had. So it’s actually a great example if any of your readers are interested from the point of view of starting a business – just start! Because it’s not going to be perfect at first. I put out in 2010 what I thought was good at the time – it was my best at that time, not only does science and our knowledge move forward but also you get feedback. You can’t get feedback unless you put it out there & ask people! It’s the feedback that we get from our customers that they’ve given us from the start & continue to do so. For example we may have changed an exercise and not because it’s a ‘wrong’ exercise but it’s more like it keeps causing confusion, or the cuing isn’t quite right. So it’s feedback on all aspects, not only the technical content ie does it work for her? Is she getting results? The efficacy of the programme is fundamental. But as well was that it’s; Can she follow it? Does she know where to go next? Do the cues makes sense? So it’s all of those things. And I know another massive factor has been since the early days as you know in your profession Helen, I have sought the opinion of experts since the beginning. Right from the start it was pelvic health physios, midwives, sex therapists, biomechanists – does this work? Is this right? Would you give this to your patients? It’s the collective feedback of all of those people. At first I came from the fitness industry and the fitness industry didn’t have all my answers, so I went elsewhere to find them. So it’s that culmination of ongoing just putting it out there, being brave & asking do you like this? Does it work for you? Would you give it to your patients?

How has your job changed, if at all, due to lockdown?

So lockdown for us hasn’t been too crazy. In the sense that my business was already a global business and a remote working business. So Slack and Zoom were our lives anyway! So we were not new to any of those ways of working. From an internal team point of view I have 12 employees based here in Cornwall (UK) and the rest of my team are around the rest of the country or around the world; my advertising guy’s in San Diego, tech is in Brazil etc so we were never in an office with those guys anyway. The only difference was prior to lockdown, we do have an office here locally in Truro where we would go and work one day per week which was really nice, more so from a human interaction point of view rather than being required work wise but that was nice so we do miss that. What we have changed is that we now have what we call a weekly ‘coffee break’ – an hour a week, at the watercooler equivalent, where we just jump online & chat about work or it can not be about work or whatever. There’s also been, which is only a good thing, an increase from a management team point of view, of awareness around mental health & checking in more. A lot of my team members are mums & that comes with multiple challenges right now, but not just that, one is eg dealing with physical challenges and disability, another is caring for someone – it’s all of those things that in lockdown has obviously, well people are dealing with an awful lot aren’t they? So I think the biggest difference has been, regardless of the logistics of the thing, because obviously my team and the product are digital so that’s fine, but I think definitely an increased awareness around mental health of the people around us has been really prominent.

Part of the IWD initiative this year is to raise awareness against gender bias. Is this something that you have ever experienced in your career?

In my MUTU career, which is the last 15-20 years, I would say largely not on the basis that my world is women’s health, so one would hope not! I did actually have an interesting conversation though not that long ago with an investor-type and what was so interesting was his question half way through chatting he said ‘Who helps you with this Wendy?’ and I was like what do you mean? Are you asking me about coaches or mentors? And he carried on and asked, well is your partner really good with numbers or something? And then I was like oh my god! Seriously?! It was asif he was saying, come on love, who’s really doing this? So I’m not even still quite sure exactly what he meant. But in terms of gender bias generally in my work, no. Obviously gender bias & inequality for mums is something that we’re tackling on a daily basis but, thankfully no not something that I have to deal with very much. There are a couple of guys on the team but otherwise we are very much a women owned and women lead business.

What does inclusivity mean to you, in your work, and how do you practise it?

There’s two sides to that; the business out there & the internal team. As far as the business out there, that’s something that we’ve taken very consciously & intentionally. Probably the biggest demonstration of that is the complete revamp of our programme a couple of years ago. In 2018 we launched the programme that you see now. Up until that point it had been me doing the exercises, which is perfectly valid as it was my programme, but I was the only person in it. I was very aware that not only was I one type and one body type etc but also one skinny white woman heading into middle age wasn’t entirely aspirational for everyone watching! So I very much wanted mums that come to us to see themselves and see something that felt relatable. So when we redid this that was very much intentional & conscious - the diversity in there - so in our programme now we have all body types, all ethnicities – that was very intentional and it’s something that I’ll admit felt odd at first being so intentional but I am so so proud that we did that and we’ve had amazing feedback from it whether it’s a woman wearing a hijab in there or all different body types etc and different ages – mums come in all forms as we know and I think that was so important for her to feel represented, so that’s in our programme but it’s also very much what I do, it’s intentional through our social media platform, through our advertising, the imagery that we use. There’s no question that fitness is a very skinny white industry – that’s what you see. The so called ‘aspirational shapes of fitness’ are tanned & white. So we are really considering it our duty to do that & it’s something we take very seriously and we want to do, it’s not just a check box exercise, it’s an ongoing intention.

And then from an internal team point of view, we have been doing the same thing in recent years in terms of being intentional about who we hire to ensure that we represent different customers but also you can’t do all those things I describe above with an all white marketing team – that would be crazy. So all of that conversation throughout, and accessibility we have that represented within the team. So all of those issues around whether it’s for example gender base, we are overt about welcoming LGBTQ parents, we are overt about all of these things. It is something we take very seriously and are very intentional about.

If you were to #choosetochallenge one area of inequality this IWD, what would that be?

I think it would be related to that last point, where something we’ve got increasingly involved in is the maternal inequality for black women and women of colour. The shocking, appalling disparity between death rates and also all measures of care & attention & understanding throughout a black woman’s maternal experience. Throughout her pregnancy, the care she receives, how she’s talked to, how her pain is perceived, how her experience of pregnancy & labour is perceived is very, very different & there’s no getting away from that. I think that it’s something as an industry we need to be outspoken about because when we’re talking to medical care givers there’s a defensiveness about ‘we’re not racist’, and OK I hear you but these numbers and stats speak for themselves. We’ve done a lot in terms of ally-ship to amplify those voices from eg Five Times More, Doulas of Colour; we sponsor that charity aswel. because black women are simply not being taken care of in the same way that white women are in this country and in the States aswel.

Here at Umi we are really passionate about breaking down stereotypes, stigmas & taboo subjects around pelvic health. Has pelvic health or issues that are seen as women's health ever been a barrier in your job?

Well really everything I do is a result of my own experiences. Up until having my kids, 13 & 15 years ago, I was a certified personal trainer. I had already taken a number of certifications in pre & post natal. So I was already in that space and the so called ‘expert’ and I know that I fell into what is often referred to as a self righteous personal trainer camp; “well you’ve just got to do this”, “you’ve just got to eat the right food & do the right exercises” “how hard can it be?!” And then of course mother nature comes along to put you right. So it was the aftermath of my births where I had massive hemorrhages both times and a lot of medical intervention and needed a lot of recovery. It was the result of those experiences that put me right on that self righteous personal trainer front 15 years ago, in that an awful lot of this stuff is out of your hands, ie pregnancy, birth etc that is out of our control and so they continue to feel out of control. And so it was the experiences around yes the physical trauma for sure but it was also about, what I think are completed inter-related, the mental health issues around that. As we know, pelvic health issues are not like for example having a sore arm or a broken ankle, it effects everything; relationships, confidence, its everything. And so I would say that without question my pelvic health experiences, the physical and the mental health issues associated with births that didn’t go according to plan, that were very traumatic, births that damaged me physically and made me feel like I’d failed. So I think all of those elements of pelvic health are quire literally the basis of MUTU system. So for me I like to think of it as a positive, for me, I thought I had the tools – I was the certified and qualified pre & post natal fitness specialist, I’d taken really good courses, I knew my stuff! But it wasn’t enough and it didn’t serve me, not at the time and again we’re 15 years on and education is very different. So it’s all of the effects of all of that are the reason for my business, they’re the purpose behind it because I don’t want women to feel like that. I don’t want women to feel shit after having babies; I want them to feel amazing!

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