It was just over a year ago that I first heard about The Well HQ – a visionary team of medical, scientific, and high-performance specialists who are on a mission to tackle gender inequalities in female health and create positive change.
As I walked across Hampstead Heath, listening to them talk online about their manifesto and inviting people to become founding members, I knew straight away that I wanted to be a part of this movement; they were just so inspiring.
The three co-founders of The Well HQ; former GB Rower Baz Moffat, GP and women’s health specialist Dr Bella Smith, and Dr Emma Ross, former lead physiologist at the English Institute of Sport, have been working together to make sport, fitness and physical activity a place where women belong and thrive.
Statistics show the gender gaps inherent in this area, highlighting a clear need for information sharing and collaborative progress. Only 6 per cent of sports science research is done exclusively on females, meaning, with so little research, education, training programmes, equipment and kit are all based on the default male.
“People feel nervous about discussing what could be considered private and personal.”
In 2019, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published a report saying that women were woefully uneducated about their bodies at every life stage. Similarly, those who support, train and educate girls – teachers, coaches, personal trainers, physios, GPs – have never been taught about them either.
Many of these topics are considered taboo, and people feel nervous about discussing what could be considered private and personal, and getting it wrong or being labelled as inappropriate.
The Well are putting research in the gaps in knowledge and the resources in full view. And crucially, they’re encouraging us all to have these conversations and to break the stigma around this subject. There hasn’t been anything like it before.
“They’re encouraging us all to have these conversations and to break the stigma around this subject.”
I reached out to Baz straight away, with a real view to thinking about education. How do we bring the knowledge, research and ideas that they are sharing into an education environment and change the norm? I was really keen for Highgate to be a hub school where, not only would we take this information and affect change for girls and women here (through our pupil, parent and staff body), but also bring education leaders together to discuss collective change across the industry.
We worked together on the Sport in her Shoes Conference, which took place at Highgate in June and the response has been amazing. Over 150 participants, from girls and co-educational schools and sporting bodies in the UK and Europe, joined us for a range of sessions looking at how to bring science into practice and how to reduce the stigma of talking about some of these topics.
We looked at the impact of inevitable life changes, female centric nutrition, injury and physical repercussions, breast support, cultivating a positive mindset to help girls thrive, and coaching girls to nurture a life-long enthusiasm for exercise.
“It was so encouraging to see people having conversations that have never happened before.”
On both days, the rooms were filled with people who have been trying to build positive discourse about girls but we just haven’t had the research or resources to think deeper about what they need. It was so encouraging to see people having conversations that have never happened before – pupils and teachers, men and women, staff and parents. It really resonated with everyone who was there, either as a personal experience or in their role as a parent/teacher in a girl’s life.
The psychology of what it is to be a girl in the wider world goes way beyond sport. We had a diverse group of leaders from all sections of Highgate join us (Inclusion, pastoral, pupil wellbeing, senior management and even some subject specialists.
“We were shocked that we knew so little and how far there is to go.”
For us, at Highgate, I hope the ideas will permeate across the school. I know our head of DTE is working on a module on this topic in the new product design A-Level and our junior school islooking at how it impacts health education.
In SpEx (Sport and Exercise), we will have a sport focus group to continue the work, looking at short term things we can change as well as longer term initiatives and a strategy to drive it. There will be a wider school group, where people will be given responsibility for how they deliver on those objectives based on the gaps. We will also ensure continued engagement and education for our parents.
Having spoken to many attendants on the day and since, I know that there was an element of shock in the day. Shocked that we knew so little and how far there is to go. But, as Baz reminded us in her concluding statement, we mustn’t dwell on feeling negative about it, we must feel empowered. The conversations are now flowing, the energy is there. The key now, is strategy and commitment – to make this a reality for our staff and girls.