Tammy Parlour on the Women’s Sport Trust changing lives

Tammy Parlor, the co-founder and CEO of the Women’s Sport Trust, was the latest guest on the Game Changers podcast.

Aside from her role as CEO, Parlor is a master of the Korean martial art, Hapkido, which she has practiced for 40 years. A fifth-level black belt — Parlor is one of the few people in the world who is at the “Master’s level” and still regularly coaches the form of self-defense.

Speaking to Sue Anstiss, Parlor explained why she feels it is a “privilege” and an honor to be a Hapkido teacher.

“I think to me we’re all incredible people, but there are so many barriers that keep us from being as incredible as we could be,” she said. “I see my role as a hapkido master or martial arts teacher as enabling people to be the best version of themselves. So it’s a privilege to be a part of it. It’s definitely a wonderful thing.”

Helping women reach their potential is also one of the main aims of the Women’s Sport Trust – an organization which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Parlor says she “never imagined” what has become of the trust and how much they have achieved.

It was the 2012 London Olympics that sparked the idea in the first place. Indeed, these games were a memorable time for British women athletes. Jessica Ennis-Hill’s heptathlon gold, Nicola Adams’ boxing exploits and Jade Jones’ inspiring taekwondo performance were just a few of the success stories that emerged.

“London 2012 came and it took me completely by surprise,” revealed Parlor. “I realized that even as an athlete, I wasn’t privy to women’s sports. I hadn’t seen any other female athletes like me and there were strong, athletic, tall women everywhere and as an athlete I felt more accepted in society.

I found myself standing taller. I found my self worth increasing. And suddenly I realized that I hadn’t seen those things.

For Parlor it was about being “in the right place at the right time”. People suddenly had an appetite for women’s sports and that initially helped to get people on board. The Trust began as a ‘scholarship provider’ – inspired by stories of female athletes struggling financially.

“In particular, there was a story of someone who had a flat tire and didn’t have the money to get the tire fixed. And I was like, ‘Well, I have 10 pounds and if I can find 10 other people, then we have 100 pounds and we can buy her a new tire!’

“That was the kind of motivation behind it – realizing that it had changed me inside, that it had motivated me. It has made me think and feel more confident and have greater self esteem as an athlete. Realizing that I could do something practical to get involved and help.

“So the WST [Women’s Sport Trust] originally started out as an entity that gave grants to help female athletes in any way they needed. A lot has changed since then.”

Despite a time when scholarships were offered to women athletes, Parlor and the rest of the team realized that it made no difference to the bigger picture and a change in approach was needed.

“We talked on the board about where our strengths and weaknesses were – where the gaps were within the landscape and our focus and interest was more on role models. So we started focusing on elite athletes.

“So for about four years we did something called the ‘Be A Game Changer’ awards, which was about celebrating what’s happening out there. And not just to celebrate it, but also to use these events as a tool to stimulate different sectors and get people to think differently about women’s sport.”

Fast forward to now and the Trust is running a campaign called Unlocked. The goal, as Parlor outlined in the podcast, is to bring together “30 to 40 female athletes” who are all performing at an incredible level.

“We’re talking about world champions, Olympians, some kind of elite,” she explained. “It brings this diverse group together and we’re basically giving them the space to think about what’s important to them.

“And then we help them take the steps towards that goal. Often the achievements go far beyond what you can ever imagine. So the Unlocked group brings this amazing group of women together and they have very open conversations about their struggles.

“We get that supplied by industry leaders and then match them up – we call them activators, but kind of like a mentoring relationship. So we connect them with industry leaders who open doors for them.

“We also have another program that we put on them to get them thinking. We start getting a picture of who they are and start hosting webinars with them for whatever they need – be it social media training, understanding the landscape, understanding racism in sport. Whatever it is, that is appropriate.”

When asked what was unique about the Unlocked campaign, Parlor pointed to the organization’s ability to build meaningful relationships.

“I think Unlocked’s success lies in building relationships with them [the athletes] and also with their activators and mentors. Anyone could host Hangouts or webinars, but building a relationship — that’s really important — that’s really trying to enable someone to fulfill their potential. This is where the magic happens.”

Despite the Trust’s success, Parlor stressed that the work is not yet complete and more can be done to accelerate change in women’s sport.

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“Go see it [women’s sport]celebrate it, read about it and then, I think more broadly, what sphere you’re in, notice if it’s missing,” she exemplified.

“If you’re in a meeting, if you’re putting together a panel, if you’re doing anything at all, just pay attention to whether there are women there or not — pay attention to whether everyone in the room is white or not, and start to point out. What can we do? How can we change? Just notice what happens.”

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