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thinking out loud with Mandy Ayres

Thinking Out Loud With Mandy Ayres | What The Women’s Football Victory Tells Us About Women In The Workplace

Thinking out loud with Mandy Ayres- What The Women’s Football Victory Tells Us About Women In The Workplace: Insights from our expert leaders and coaches.

Words by Angelica Sykes, story by Mandy Ayres, Shine Leader

Mandy has extensive experience of working in the Public, Charitable and Corporate sectors, including for a major global sports brand where she led teams on both the brand and corporate sides of the organisation. She is passionate about coaching leaders through career transitions, which is what she also does for elite athletes.

As our marvellous Shine Leader Mandy stood in Wembley arena on the evening of the Lionesses’ incredible victory around 87192 other fans (the biggest crowd in Euro finals history) from across the gender spectrum, the air alight with electricity and energy, she was filled with so many emotions. Utter euphoria at what this win represents, joy, a touch of sadness for opportunities lost and optimism for the future.  

This win isn’t just a win in sport; it’s a win in gender parity, equality and respect. Moreover, it offers a moment to reflect on the journey and women’s experiences elsewhere in society and the workplace.   

Moving From Acceptance to Action 

There are generations of women who have essentially “missed the boat”, who, like Mandy, will be looking upon the Lionesses’ win with feelings of pride and sadness that they weren’t afforded the same dream. Of course, it’s impossible as women not to feel solidarity, happiness and delight for such a win. Still, those who grew up even post the women’s football ban until relatively recently were not treated equally to men and boys. Mandy tells us of her personal experiences at school, which profoundly shaped the way Mandy connects to football and gender equality as a whole.  

“Whilst we were legally allowed to play football, (thank you, FA, very generous,) at my school and many others in 1971, it was deemed that girls could only play competitive football to the age of 11. Because we had a very good PE teacher and there were about five or six girls we were allowed to play – but we weren’t allowed to take part in any matches. So, we could stand as girls on the side line cheering the boys on, but we weren’t allowed to play competitive games. We just accepted by age 11 that we couldn’t play football, even though all the way through my primary school we played every break time and every lunchtime, but we just had to accept this is the way things go. The kind of parallel that I think about is that for years we have just accepted the ways things are in the corporate world.”  

Disrupting The Status Quo

The significance of this win is far-reaching as it disrupts the status quo from the representation and the standpoint of women doing things their way. At Shine, we preach the virtues of living by your values and stepping into your unique leadership. 

“This win in the UK is reinforcing a realisation that women can do things differently. It’s a very different product to the men. I’ve worked in football and banged the drum for women’s sports for many years. It’s always been against a male framework; it’s about how the men play and women fitting into that. This analogy also reflects society; that comparison is unhealthy and should be taken as two separate things, i.e., men’s and women’s sports. Comparison isn’t fair, as opposed to enjoying the female sport for what it is, it’s skilful, it’s exciting, intriguing, and thrilling.”  

The Male V Female Framework in Society

For the majority we live and work in a male framework, whether we are discussing football or financial reports, right? But the way the Lionesses approached the championship is a beautiful visual manifestation of what we preach at Shine, you can do things differently. We firmly believe that women don’t need fixing; we aren’t broken, but the societal structures in the workplace and beyond that need to adapt and grow.   

“What we’ve seen in women’s football is a systemic shift in everything, even how you go to the game as a spectator. For example, it’s a carnival, fans can sit together, there’s no aggression, you can bring your kids. It’s about music, it’s about dance, it’s about the game being played their way. What would this mean for a vision of the corporate workforce? It would look different. We wouldn’t have to ask permission to pick our children up from school, you wouldn’t have to choose between family and career or working in a hybrid model to allow for more freedom. This is one way women’s football is starting to reflect how it could be in the corporate world.” 

Listening to Women

Mandy talks about the “sponsorship model”, which only serves to further the lack of, or perceived lack of participation, interest and financial gain in women’s sport. This is a moment for decision makers in sports and with brands and partnerships to look inward and establish whether they experience unconscious bias and listen only to anecdotal evidence instead of listening and learning from women and the empirical-backed data.  

“So, take the sponsorship model. When I was working within the industry, I remember talking to the CEO and said why don’t you also think about the Premier League and incorporating women? He said it’s not commercial. All the focus groups used to say that women supposedly didn’t like going to the gym. They all wore black and stood in the corner, and they all did it for the sake of fashion. So, luckily in 2022 we know that’s not true, but back then no one was talking to women. It’s the case of being caught in an echo chamber, a positive feedback loop. It’s presumed beliefs of the behaviours of women rather than fact.  

It’s like we say there’s 2% truth in everything. Maybe it wasn’t commercial because when I had that conversation, women were playing professionally but there was no investment in the game. Women’s football is different but that’s what makes it interesting. People are wakening up to the fact that it’s still massively skilful, a genuine commercial product, and it’s time to build a legacy; what would it look like if we approached things differently? And how does ‘seeking advantage from doing things differently’ benefit working cultures?” 

The Shiny Perspective

Tying this back to our Shine programme, we asked Mandy what the Lionesses did to achieve their win through a Shine lens and what women in the workplace can take away from this.  

“They’ve held on to their values throughout. For example, integrity and collaboration; they’ve not listened to the noise. They’re focused on the team, everyone’s got their role, and they are a real collective who are all clear on what matters. Their bigger game has been winning, but it’s how they’ve won. Not just winning at all costs; they’ve thought through who they are and how they show up on their social media, in front and behind the camera.    

They have remembered where they’ve come from. They have faced, much like women in the workplace, unfair comparisons and unfair standards.  

Historically women have had to be polite. We hear so often from the women we work with that in trying to be assertive it’s often seen as aggressive or being a bitch. Up to now, women in football had to be palatable to the general public, be polite, and behave in an approved manner. What’s been remarkable about this tournament is that all the players had the confidence to show up as their authentic selves, and the fans loved it. It’s moved the dial.” 

That’s the point. The Lionesses have dared to be different and overcome unconscious biases in the sport. They are reinventing the way football is experienced by women and making it commercially viable in the process. At Shine we believe that when you build confidence and influence in women within large organisations, they too will dare to be different and shape systems and cultures – and the wider society beyond.  

Share this article with your colleagues and the people around you and encourage a healthy discussion. And for anything else, follow us on social media or get in touch via email but remember when women thrive, men thrive, business thrives.  

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