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Rebecca Passmore was promoted to MD of Pure Gym the day she started maternity leave

Gender equality in fitness is discussed among leaders in HCM’s latest Ask the Experts feature
Five CEOs talk about their experiences, both in managment and climbing the ladder in the fitness industry
Contributors are: Humphrey Cobbald, Pure Gym; Liz Clarke, IHRSA; Sophie Lawler, Total Fitness; Tara Dillon, CIMSPA and Sarah Watts, Alliance Leisure Services
WIFA’s and Sport Alliance’s report on gender equality revealed 47 per cent of men have leadership or senior roles compared with 36 per cent of women
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Rebecca Passmore was promoted to MD of Pure Gym in September 2020 – the same day she went on maternity leave.

This is one of several insights revealed in HCM’s deep dive into gender equality in the fitness industry that indicate the sector is making incremental steps forward, despite it being acknowledged that barriers to women in the workplace are widespread.

Humphrey Cobbold, Pure Gym’s CEO, described the timing of Passmore's appointment as being “impactful for her and other women in the industry”, explaining that the company wants to be “at the vanguard of progressive working policies”.

“We’ve enhanced maternity cover and introduced flexible working, which is helpful for our colleagues who have to care for others – there’s no doubt this helps women with children who previously might have dropped out,” he said. “A gym business which lacks different voices, experiences and perspectives will struggle to deliver the best proposition, making it a clear commercial imperative to have female voices at all levels.”

According to the Gender Equality in the Fitness Industry 2022 report produced by Sport Alliance and the Women in Fitness Association (WIFA), 47 per cent of men have a leadership or senior role when working for a company, compared with 36 per cent of women. “We know if women participated equally to men in the economy, it would increase the global GDP by US$28tr by 2025,” said WIFA’s founder Jennifer Halsall.

As the first female CEO of IHRSA, Liz Clarke explained that for her personally “equal opportunity has been achieved at the highest level”. Although she acknowledges that there is “a lot of work to do” she believes the sector is “ahead of many industries”.

“Due to the nature of our industry, there is equal opportunity to join as a trainer and go on to become managers and ultimately owners,” she said. “Women have pioneered methods such as yoga and group exercise and it only continues.”

Having founded Alliance Leisure in 1998, Sarah Watts, CEO, says that she has nurtured the business, and the team, as a mother. “As a result, the company respects our people and appreciates they have lives outside the business,” she said.

From years of communicating with stakeholders and other businesses she says that she finds women diffuse situations. “I don’t do business with testosterone,” she said. “I’m tenacious, patient, humorous and balanced.”

Watts launched the company shortly after her third baby was born and says although she’s built it up in a male-dominated industry, that young women in the industry mustn't feel defeated if they get knocked back. “Believe in yourself and your abilities,” she said. “My advice for ambitious young women in the fitness sector is to find something you love.”

Sophie Lawler, CEO of Total Fitness, steers her company without gender equality being a specific focus for her career or her team. “I know it’s an important topic and I feel beholden to say things that will empower and embolden women in particular, but my truth on this subject doesn’t speak to gender directly, it speaks to everyone” she said. “My specific focus is building a culture where everyone can achieve some level of personal growth. I believe my responsibility is to create an environment where they can move forwards towards whatever they choose.”

CIMSPA’s CEO Tara Dillon says that she was one of few female senior managers in the sector and over the years felt she had to be part of the ‘boys’ club’. She says she experienced the gender pay gap firsthand – but dealt with it by getting a better-paid job elsewhere.

“I’m competitive by nature and my sports background has taught me that you only get picked for the team if you’re good enough,” she said. “My advice to young women in the sector is to pick your spot and go for it. There’s only a glass ceiling if you choose to see it.”

According to WIFA’s and Sport Alliance’s findings, 27 per cent of women in leadership positions say their path to becoming a leader was more difficult because of their gender.

When asked about gender bias in their company, 82 per cent of men in the Gender Equality report responded that there isn’t any, whereas for women the figure was far lower at 64 per cent.

Read the full article here in the latest issue of HCM: www.hcmmag.com/WomeninFitness_HCMNov22

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Rebecca Passmore was promoted to MD of Pure Gym in September 2020 – the same day she went on maternity leave.
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