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What Playing with the Boys Taught Me About Supporting Women?

   

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3 Lessons from the Soccer Field That Inspired My Entrepreneurial Journey

This article originally appeared on Thrive Global.

When I was younger, I was the only girl playing on the boys’ soccer team. We didn’t have a separate girls’ team, so I played with my younger brother and enjoyed every minute of the game. As I got older (and better), kids were asked to try out for travel soccer teams but I wasn’t allowed to play with the boys' team. I was singled out and asked to try out for a girls’ travel soccer team. I didn’t want to do it and didn’t understand why I couldn’t play with the boys, my teammates, I played with for years.

Determined not to let this stop me, my mom and dad helped me to petition the league commissioner. After several meetings, he finally approved for me to try out and I will always remember that he gave me a chance and supported my efforts. I was the only girl in try-outs and eventually made the team. Some of my teammates and our opponents didn’t accept “a girl playing on their team” and went out of their way to isolate me. I always found that disconcerting, how we had played competitively together for years but once there was a separate team, it was as if they forgot who I was and how I had been their teammate. I got pushed down quite a bit but with my dad’s voice saying “walk it off”, I got back up and played on. I had to be just as good, if not better to prove myself – to them and me - and that’s exactly what I did. While I didn't know it then, this experience taught me invaluable lessons about how to ‘play with the boys’ and navigate male-dominated environments, a skill that has paid off in my career (I’m not sure I knew that back then though).

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a girls’ soccer team at my high school so I couldn’t play my freshman year so a friend of mine and I decided to start a girls' team. We recruited several girls to play and a volunteer coach, secured hundreds of petitioned signatures and went before the school board to fight for our right to a team. We won and started the first girls’ soccer team in my high school in 1990. We ended that inaugural season with a couple of wins, but doing it on our own with the odds against us empowered us with an exhilarating sense of accomplishment. It was inspiring to rally together and the bonds we forged were some of our strongest.

If you’re wondering why a high school soccer experience has relevance in my life today, I can honestly say this was the one of the best pieces of preparation for a two-decade career in banking. From the soccer field to the board room, I spent much of my life in male dominated environments and industries. These three lessons I learned playing on boys’ and girls’ teams not only enhanced my career, but guided my recent decision to become a female founder.

1) Boys are on the journey with us and we have to know how to work together. Men are a big part of our lives, careers and pivotal decision makers and we can’t isolate them. A big number of those men support us too.

2) You will hear “no” and you will be side-lined at moments in your life but you have to have the courage to stand up for yourself and fight for what is right and what you are passionate about. Everyone said no when we wanted to start a girls’ soccer team, but I refused to quit. I also knew early on that I had to work harder to stay in the game.

3) Playing on a team with all girls I felt unparalleled support and championed like never before. There is an energy and community that sparks when you bring women together and I’m a believer that sometimes women need their own teams to get ahead.

Throughout my career I often found myself being one of a handful of women in the leadership ranks and I want to change that across all industries. This year, I decided to leave banking and launch Luminary, a collaboration hub and meeting space for women in New York City to develop, network and connect. After building women’s groups in banks around the globe, I decided to self-fund and create a membership community with a 15,000 square foot space for women to invest in themselves and their professional development and wellness. This girls club not only helps us work with the boys (they are invited to join select programming, meetings and events), but it helps us win together as women. We’re stronger together.

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Luminary, the collaborative hub and meeting space for women, will open its doors this November. 

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