Fighting Gender Stereotypes in Sport

When Summit panelist Amy Bream discovered boxing, she got so much more

Amy Bream knows what it means to face challenges. Born with a limb deficiency, she’s never known what it’s like to have two legs. Being fit for a new prosthesis meant learning how to walk all over again. Walking with a prosthesis meant drawing attention to herself in ways that were uncomfortable in a whole different way. And yet, Amy is one of the fiercest athletes we know.

She lifts, she boxes, she rock-climbs, she paddle-boards, she runs, she inspires. She’s also the operations director for TITLE Boxing Nashville and the creator of One Leg to Stand On, where she shares frank observations and encouraging stories about her journey.

Amy will be joining us at the Women’s Leadership Summit on March 19 for a panel discussion about the role of sports in activating potential. She’s definitely qualified to speak on the topic, because it was the discovery of sports (boxing, in particular) that activated her “anything’s possible” mentality. Keep reading to see why you won’t want to miss Amy at the Women’s Leadership Summit.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: Looking back on your career so far, what is one of the greatest challenges you have faced, and how did you overcome it? 

AMY: Learning how to calmly handle fast-paced, stressful environments without negatively affecting the staff I manage. Most of my management positions have been in smaller companies that are prone to lots of last-minute changes and constant adjustments, which is difficult for my Type A personality who prefers to stick to a schedule and well-organized plan.

I learned to be flexible and deal with situations calmly by looking at the “bigger picture” when I wanted to stress or panic. Now, I am much more capable of taking a step back from the details of the moment to see the most important factors and make the best of every situation. On the most stressful days, I take breaths and remember that life will always go on, there will always be 24 hours to every day, there are lessons to be learned from every stressful situation, and tomorrow starts fresh.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: What do you believe is lacking in your industry in terms of opportunities for women? And how do we change it?

AMY: In fitness in particular, I think the biggest obstacles are in addressing the stereotypes that come with women in the fitness world. These stereotypes can prevent women from being taken seriously as knowledgeable, capable fitness professionals. Things like oversexualizing women in fitness, promoting an unhealthy body image and lifestyle, and combating the stigma that women in a gym setting are catty and tear each other down—all of these things need to change.

Like most things in life, I think the most powerful way of addressing an issue is to live by example. If I don’t like something but am unsure of how to change the big picture, the very first way I can promote change is to live out the change I want to see.

Fitness for me is about gaining confidence and inner/outer strength rather than sexual appeal. I present myself that way in the way I speak about myself, what I wear, and how I interact with people in the gym.

I work hard to promote balance, hold myself accountable to a balanced lifestyle, and be honest with others when I’m struggling or when I see an issue.

And I make it a point to encourage other women in the gym. When I want to make an assumption about a woman I encounter in fitness, I try to have a conversation with her and get to know her. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I realize my unfair assumptions were incorrect.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? And does it still ring true today?

AMY: My parents instilled the ideas of hard work and integrity in me since I was a child. They’d always tell me that someone is always watching, whether or not you realize it, and if you’re given a task, do it with integrity and to the absolute best of your ability. I’ve had several conversations about this with current coworkers and one of my bosses, especially as I stepped into a management role and it was suddenly my turn to oversee and watch how the employees I managed handled the seemingly small tasks I assigned to them.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: What career advice would you give your younger self today?

AMY: Be open to change. Don’t put yourself into a box of what your ideal career path or role should be. Wise people you encounter in your life may be able to see qualities in you that you haven’t seen before—listen to them and don’t tune them out. 

Follow Amy on Instagram for instant inspiration, and don’t forget to secure your spot at the Women’s Leadership Summit on March 19. Proceeds underwrite scholarships that let any girl, regardless of ability to pay, participate in Play Like a Girl programs.

Yes, Sport Is a Pathway to STEM

Meet Jesse Lovejoy, one of the speakers and executive mentors at our Women’s Leadership Summit on March 19.

Welcome to the first installment of our Women’s Leadership Speaker Series, where we’re introducing you to some of the inspiring leaders who will be sharing their passion with us on March 19. First up is Jesse Lovejoy, who is director of 49ers EDU and the 49ers Museum (yes, those San Francisco 49ers). 

We know what you’re thinking, why would we feature a man as the first subject in our speaker series for a women’s summit? We’ll tell you why. Jesse’s work with the 49ers speaks to everything we care about here at Play Like a Girl—and he is our founder and CEO, Dr. Kim’s mentor. Plus, it’s easy to be inspired by the career journey that led Jesse to this important work which has included numerous partnerships with Play Like a Girl in recent years. 

Since 2014, 49ers EDU has leveraged football as a platform for teaching lessons in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) to over 300,000 Bay Area students. The program also encourages physical activity while teaching important skills through the values of teamwork. Kids flex their engineering muscles by designing their own helmets in the state-of-the-art tech wonderland that is the 49ers Education Center. They get schooled in the laws of physics on the field of Levi Stadium, watching what happens when they kick or throw a football at different angles. Oh, and did we mention these programs are completely free of charge for every single student?

Jesse will be a speaker at our Women’s Leadership Summit—and is featured in our Executive Auction. He is one of many executives, investors, elite athletes and entertainers who will be donating their time to mentor summit attendees who bid in the auction. We hope you’ll be just as inspired as we are by his passion for leveraging sports to ignite the spark for STEM and the career journey that brought him to where he is today.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: Looking back on your career so far, what is one of the biggest challenges you faced, and how did you overcome it? 

JESSE: It was, without a doubt, changing my career trajectory from one without purpose to something that has meaning. I quit a career that I was good at and I left an industry I was succeeding in, and I started over. The risk was huge, but I overcame it by believing in the power of doing something that mattered. I also had the support of my wife and family who encouraged me to believe in myself and what I could do. All of that, plus a lot of hard work and dedication to the people around me, brought me to where I am today.

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: You’ll be speaking at the Women’s Leadership Summit about the important role male allies play. What do you believe is lacking in your industry in terms of opportunities for women? And what do you see as the way forward?

JESSE: Well, if you’re talking about pro sports you can pick a million different verticals in which representation for women is woeful. If you are talking about education or community relations in sports, it’s better but there’s still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to executive leadership positions. Across the board, the sports industry is categorically lacking in virtually every way when it comes to opportunities of merit for women to contribute and succeed.

I guess the place I’d start is to try to reframe the discussion a bit from one that is focused on equity (solely) to one that also articulates the significant business benefit and value that comes with a more balanced organization from a gender standpoint.

Let me be clear: Achieving gender and pay equity in the workplace is MASSIVELY important on its own. That said, there are also scores of studies that speak to how much an industry, business or department stands to gain (financially, operationally, culturally) from having an office that accurately reflects our society and has women in positions of leadership and value within an organization.

If we can diversify the discussion and the way this issue sits in the minds of decisionmakers at companies, we may start to see greater success short- and long-term. 

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

JESSE: Keena Turner, a 4x Super Bowl champ and the man who led the charge in hiring me for my position with the 49ers, told me, “You are going to have a lot of bosses.” That resonated in a very literal sense when I joined the 49ers. But I quickly realized what he was actually trying to tell me: Be of service to everyone—and not yourself—and you will ultimately be successful and build the kind of relationships that you want in your business and personal life.”

PLAY LIKE A GIRL: If you could, what career advice would you give to your younger self?

JESSE: That’s easy: Be kind to everyone. Find purpose in your work. Believe in yourself.

Follow Jesse on Twitter to keep up with the good work he’s doing at 49ers EDU. And don’t forget to secure your spot for the “New Rules for a New World” Women’s Leadership Summit on March 19. Proceeds underwrite program scholarships for girls in need.

Play Like a Girl Named U.S. Soccer SheBelieves Ambassador

When girls and women succeed, we all succeed

As anyone who has ever played a team sport knows, when we work together, we can achieve more. That’s the concept behind the newly launched SheBelieves Ambassadors program, a U.S. Soccer initiative that is elevating and uniting 10 nonprofits, organizations and individuals dedicated to positively impacting girls and women—including ours.

As a SheBelieves Ambassador, Play Like a Girl will be able to highlight the important work we’re doing for girls and women to a much broader audience (i.e. fans of the incredible U.S. Women’s National Team). We’ll learn from and share what we know with the other change-makers in the program. And, we’ll be able to amplify our ability to inspire and empower girls and women through the work we do—because that’s the mission of SheBelieves, too.

“SheBelieves compliments our efforts at Play Like a Girl to leverage sport to develop girls' confidence and competitive edge -- both on and off the field of play,” says Dr. Kimberly Clay, Play Like a Girl CEO and founder. “Together with the U.S. Soccer Federation and the U.S. Women's National Team, we are working to accelerate women's careers by starting when girls are most impressionable and motivated.” 

Play Like a Girl joins nine other ambassadors, spanning sports, STEM, the arts and professional development. More than half of the organizations focus on serving girls and women in underserved or minority communities.

While this is the first year for the Ambassadors program, SheBelieves got its start in 2015, as a nod to the inspiring U.S. Women’s National Team and the incredible success they had that year. (Need a reminder? They played like girls -- and won the World Cup!)

It wasn’t luck, but dedication, teamwork and perseverance that led the team to success. And in turn, that success has inspired a new generation of girls and women to believe that their dreams, on the field and beyond, are attainable.

The launch of the ambassador program coincides with the SheBelieves Cup, a four-team international invitational that kicks off this week.

Check out the schedule and where to catch the action.



How to Build a Hockey Town? With Girls...

Nashville Predators committed to growing girls’ hockey program

Where Jennifer Boniecki grew up, outside of Chicago, she lived 15 minutes from six ice rinks. A 45-minute car trip expanded her options to more than 40 rinks. After her brother started playing hockey, Jennifer wanted to try it for herself. “The first time I got on the ice I fell in love with it,” she says. “It’s such a unique sport.”

Her mom wasn’t thrilled with her decision. “She was really hesitant about it,” Jennifer says. “At the time, hockey wasn’t seen as a sport that girls played—even in a hockey town like Chicago.”

But that was all about to change. Women’s hockey made its debut at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and the United States took gold. That really helped show the world (and Jennifer) that girls could not only play hockey but play it at the highest level.

Jennifer played the sport through college. After graduation, she started coaching. She took a job with the Chicago Blackhawks, introducing hockey (and STEM concepts, FTW!) to kids, before moving to Nashville in 2019 to coordinate the amateur hockey program for the Nashville Predators.

Meet and greet with the Predators’ female leaders

In celebration of National Girls & Women in Sports Day on Feb. 3, the Predators hosted a hockey clinic in partnership with Play Like a Girl. In addition to taking to the ice and learning a few basics (and STEM concepts!) our girls got the chance to meet some of the female leaders who work in the Predators organization—Michelle Kennedy, chief operating officer; Robin Lee, director of corporate sponsorship services; Lara Crouch, director of guest experience; and Kylie Wilkerson, senior manager of event services—during a virtual Q&A.

“When you’re an athlete, all you think about is playing at the highest level,” Jennifer explains. “But at some point, that comes to an end. So, how do you transition out of that? For a lot of women athletes, it’s working in a front office. So, we wanted to show what that might look like from four different angles.”

At the time, the Play Like a Girl clinic, held at the Ford Ice Center in Bellevue, was supposed to serve as a last call to sign up for the Preds Girls Hockey program, which kicks off this week. The only problem was, when registration opened the first of January, it sold out almost immediately. “We were able to open a couple more spots, but within days those were gone, too,” Jennifer says. “It’s clear that Nashville is a place where girls want to play hockey.”

Thanks to a grant from the NHL/NHLPA Industry Growth Fund, which Jennifer helped secure, girls of all ages (4-17) and all levels of proficiency (including those who have never skated before) are able to participate at no cost to them—and finish the 12-week program with a full set of equipment, which will be theirs to keep.

The plan is for many of these girls to sign up for this summer’s girls 3-on-3 league.

“This format will help us introduce traditional game play to our players,” she says. “It’s less structured, so it really fosters creativity and problem solving and helps them figure out the game on their own.”

There are plans for another 3-on-3 league and another development program (like the one running right now) for the fall.

“My hope is in the next couple years, we’ll have a girls’ travel team,” Jennifer says.

The Nashville Jr. Predators Hockey Club, an amateur affiliate of the Nashville Predators, currently has girls’ teams that compete nationally, but those are for high schoolers or older. [bctt tweet="“We’re working to build the pathway for girls, who can start at the beginning, play at an intermediate level and then continue on to elite, college and even professional hockey.”" username="iplaylikeagirl"]

The basics of girls’ hockey

So, what’s the sport like? If you’re picturing body checks and bloody noses, we’ve got news for you—it’s not that. Not at all. “That’s a very 1980s style of hockey,” she says. “You definitely still see it sometimes, but today’s game is much more about speed and agility. And girls’ hockey has different rules. It’s still physical, but less so.” 

Jennifer calls the sport safe, graceful, elegant even (players are on ice, after all). It’s also an equalizer of sorts. “Everyone starts at the same level,” she says. “You can’t look at someone who’s a great runner, for example, and know that they’ll be a good hockey player. You have to train and practice and build those skills—everyone does.” Hockey comes with all of the benefits of other team sports, like leadership, dedication, time management, plus one all its own: a strong sense of community.

“The community is so passionate and so supportive,” Jennifer says. “When you’re a hockey player, you are for your entire life.”

Play Like a Girl is proud to partner with the Nashville Predators to help with Nashville’s hockey town transformation. We are grateful for their financial support over the years and the opportunities to play this exciting sport and meet the women who are helping make it all happen.


Meet an amazing young woman who’s already changing the world

Why does it seem like behind every amazing woman there’s a sport she played when she was younger? For Cheryl Mulor, that sport was soccer. And while the sport wasn’t her passion growing up in Kenya, playing it did teach her an important lesson about what she was capable of.

You see, in Kenya, soccer is huge—it just hasn’t always been that way for girls. “In Kenya, there is so much focus on men and men’s sports. I have four brothers and I just always played soccer with them, because why not? Doing that motivated me to play in school. I loved the sport, but I was always aware that I was doing something that not many girls did, which just motivated me even more.”

Fast forward to today, and it’s clear her early Girls-Can-Do-Anything attitude served her well. Last month we introduced you to Cheryl and her health startup Imhotech, which won second place at Samaira Mehta’s Boss Bizz 2.0 Entrepreneurship Academy. (Play Like a Girl CEO Dr. Kimberly Clay spoke to participants at the virtual event, and we also sponsored the $1,000 prize.) But to stop there would be to miss out on so much more of this young woman’s story. We caught up with Cheryl recently (via Zoom, of course) and were so impressed by her strength, determination and wisdom beyond her years.

Cheryl arrived in the United States four years ago, after earning a full scholarship (and then some) to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kenya, which literally straddles the equator, is a far cry from Madison, Wisconsin, but she was so impressed by the school’s civil engineering program, that she was willing to sacrifice the warmer temps for the opportunity to study there.  

Once she arrived, she felt a little like she did on the soccer field back in Kenya. “Civil engineering is really male and really white, while I’m female and Black,” she says. “Coming into the program, I was expecting it, but you really can’t be prepared for it enough.”

In a lecture hall with more than 300, she was the only Black woman.

“It was intimidating at first,” she admits. “I’d ask myself, ‘Will I be smart enough?’ And sometimes I doubted myself, but I eventually got to a place where I stopped worrying about the numbers of female students and just focused on proving to myself that I could do it. I knew I could work hard and do just as well as my classmates.”

She also recognizes the value she brings as a Black woman to a white male-dominated field like civil engineering. “Whether a Black woman from Kenya like me or someone who has a completely different background, the world is better when these unique perspectives come together.”

Cheryl’s plan, after earning a master’s degree in sustainable design and construction and working as a civil engineer in the United States, is to eventually take her knowledge and expertise to help improve residential construction in rural Kenya. “I grew up in a village where the homes are made out of mud and had grass-thatched roofs,” she says. “But these types of homes do not survive harsh conditions, so there’s always repair happening and it’s just this cycle of destruction and reconstruction. I want to discover how to take these local materials and modify them to be able to create structures that are better for the economy and the environment.”

There also are growth plans for Imhotech, which Cheryl started with two other engineering students at UW-M. Cofounder Chumani Mokoena is from South Africa and is a student in nuclear engineering. He serves as team leader for Imhotech. Yasmine Abdennadher, an electrical engineering major from Tunisia, is in charge of research and development. A third friend, Anya Gessesse, who was born in Ethiopia and grew up in California, is studying computer engineering and is the company’s lead software developer.

Despite hailing from very different parts of Africa, they discovered a similarity among them—all had stories of family members or friends who were denied medical care because they didn’t have their medical records on them in their time of need.

Imhotech is helping solve that problem by building a tool—an electronic health record that is compatible with low-speed internet—that allows patients easier access to their medical records and the medical care they need when they need it. The $1,000 prize from Boss Bizz 2.0 is serving as seed money for the startup, and Cheryl says the funds will go toward hiring software developers and coders to help build the prototype. The idea also caught the attention of the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative (a longtime partner of Play Like a Girl), which awarded Cheryl and company $3,000 to help move the idea forward. A prototype is already in the works, and Cheryl expects there to be a pilot program in place next year.

So, what advice does Cheryl have for the girls in your life? It’s simple: “Go for it.

“Whatever you want to do in life, do it,” she says. “Whatever boys can do you can do 10 times better. It needs hard work and it’s not going to be easy, but that mentality will take you far.”