Making the Movement Industry Work for Women
Recently a student and friend of mine went through a series of major life changes in a short period of time, closing her studio, moving to a new state, and going from childless to being mother to two small children. She reached out asking what she could possibly do to keep up her qualifications when she barely had time to get in her daily shower, let alone travel out of state for a three day update course. There seemed to me only one option. I offered that if she’d fly me out to her I would teach her update privately for that year in her home studio. And that’s what we did, getting in all of our training hours, working around nap schedules, nursing breaks, and childcare availability. Was it profitable for me? No. In fact I had to cancel clients to do the trip so it cost me income to go. Was it worth it? Definitely.
I certainly can’t do this every year and, unfortunately, not for everyone who needs it, but I’m in a place in my life where I have the luxury of helping other women in this sometimes tough industry. Sometimes we need someone to go a little further for us to get us through a tricky, transitional time. The alternative was to risk losing her from the industry all together, and with her all the talent and good work she has brought to it.
Many industries lose women from the work force due to these sort of life changes, and this is a greater issue that needs to be addressed. But it feels particularly disappointing to see this happen in a female dominated, wellness focused industry such as Movement. But because there are so many female studio owners and sole proprietors in this field, it seems we do have the power to adjust our mindset and make the movement industry serve women better.
First of all, I think it’s important to consider where we get our image of what professionalism looks like. Are we carrying over preconceptions of what “professional” should be from environments created by and traditionally dominated by men? I’d like to propose that a professional environment can include children coloring in the corner, nursing breaks, and scheduling around school pick-up. And of course children aren’t the only responsibility women may have in their lives. We are often caregivers for older or sick adults, carry the “emotional labor” of our households and extended families, and often bear the majority of the domestic responsibilities at home.
But for many of us the most obvious challenges are faced when we become mothers, and this is often the turning point where, if not given the support needed, a lot of talent can be lost from our field.
I’ve taught many courses with my son, at various ages, as he played with monster trucks or read while I taught. I welcome my students to have their kids hang out in the studio if child care isn’t available, or a snow day was called in the middle of a training. In my old studio I had a bouncy baby seat and a play blanket tucked away in the closet to bring out for clients who needed to bring their babies to sessions.
When my son was 11 months old I had him with me in Sweden without childcare. I taught private sessions with him in a carrier on my back. Granted this was not so successful, as he was teething, crying, and digging his new front tooth into my back while I taught. So it’s not always perfect, but we tried it. My students and the hosting studio owner were supportive and understanding and were able to arrange for friends to take him out on long walks in the stroller during much of the course time. Not everything is going to work for every mother or for every child, but there are lots of ways to make it work.
Here are some things to think about as we make a more female friendly environment for both trainers and clients.
Communicate clearly. If you need to bring your kid(s) to the studio, or have childcare issues to work around, be clear ahead of time about your needs as much as possible. If you have a client, student, or trainer at your studio who you know will be needing support around childcare ask for specifics on what they’ll need. Is it specific break times? Is the kid okay to sit quietly in the corner and read or play? Or should we look at recruiting a friend or local teenager to help out?
Be adaptable. Not every child is the same, and of course children are different from day to day and developmental stage to stage. What works for one child to keep them settled in the studio may not work for another, or may not work every time. Be ready to roll with alternative options, and fresh ideas. Realize that not all kids are “studio kids” and sometimes helping find off-site baby-sitting options will be best.
Pinpoint the obstacles. Just as every child is different, every woman has her own unique situation. Ask questions to uncover the particular barriers she faces in achieving her goals. This might even have to start with questioning what her goals are, because maybe these have shifted with changes in life and she’s been too tired and/or busy to have a good think about what she even actually wants at this stage. What does she envision as her ideal for work and life now? What about next year, in five years, after the kids are gone, etc? How can we work around current obstacles, and how might those challenges change moving forward? Sometimes simple changes like adjusting the schedule, changing the teaching location, making a kids’ activity corner in the studio (or setting up an iPad and letting technology do a bit of babysitting), making a payment plan to help offset financial burden, or even just allowing a student to keep their phone on and handy during the course can make a world of difference.
I believe it’s healthy for kids to see their mothers working and taking care of themselves. Moms often try to keep their kids out of the studio, again maybe because of some outdated concept of what “professional” looks like. But kids seeing their moms doing what they do best, focusing on their work, doing healthy movement, and improving themselves professionally seems like a good idea to me. A lot of mothers feel guilty when they can’t be completely focused on their children all the time. But I feel like my son seeing me working and focused on other things helps him understand and respect me as a person. And respect for others’ needs is an important value I want him to develop.
We still must maintain focus and high standards, but with a sense of ease and, of course, adaptability. Even with the potential distractions of having children around as we work we still need to strive for the highest quality of work we can. But this requires some give and take. If everything starts to dissolve as a fussy baby needs a nursing break, take that break and then come back with renewed attention. If I’m working with a mother who is a bit distracted by a child, I myself need to put out a little more energy to keep us moving forward. I know that some moments might be a little chaotic, but as soon as the focus is regained we need to push through at the highest level possible to keep us on track. And as long as a client or student is doing their best, I’m happy, even if their best right now isn’t as polished as I’ve seen them do before. We have to work to bring out the best in people at their particular stage of life. That will undoubtedly vary, and that’s ok. Just be sure that the distraction level to any other participants is tolerable. If the solution you’ve worked out turns out to be distracting to others, you’ll need to re-evaluate and come up with a new option pretty quickly.
I’m focusing on women here, because our industry is predominantly female, and pregnancy, child birth., nursing, etc., tend to be pretty major challenges to keeping our movement careers on track, and in general we still have a larger load of child care responsibilities. But obviously men are also often caregivers and have life complexities as well. Supporting men helps them better support their partners and families and generally contributes to the health of our society as a whole. So I don’t mean to dismiss the needs of our male colleagues at all. Making the industry more female friendly will also make it a better place for men to thrive as well. We all benefit from the support and understanding of our community.
Do this for yourself as well. As women in this industry we not only need to take care of each other, but also we need to give ourselves that same respect as well. Know that there will be ebbs and flows in your career, from year to year and from week to week. One year you may take every course you possibly can and feel boundless professional growth. The next year you may scoot by with the bare minimum to maintain your certifications. That’s fine. Know that things may be different next year. If you have small children and it all feels impossible right now remember one day, not too long from now, everyone will be able to put on their own shoes and get their own lunch, and will eventually get their own apartments. None of this is forever.
I’m at a stage now with my 12 year old son and a supportive partner that I can take off for a few days to help out a woman who needs some extra professional support right now. People have given me this type of support in the past. I’m one hundred percent sure that when she’s at a point where her life feels under control again she’ll pay it forward and continue the cycle of women supporting women.