Women in Fitness: Stats, Stories and Strategies for Breaking Down Barriers

This article was originally published on TrueCoach’s ebook.


Director of Operations and Business Consultant 

Where You Might Have Seen Jessica: FIT4MOM, IDEA World, SCW Mania, canfitpro, AsiaFit, FitnessFest 

Accolades: Director of Operations & Product at FIT4MOM, providing extensive education and resources for all FIT4MOM branded formats nationwide, curating and creating new learning experiences for the entire FIT4MOM nation, such as digital format certifications, educational courses on leadership and entrepreneurship, and consumer-focused brand awareness content. Jessica is also a fitness business consultant and strategist who has internationally presented and consulted for many brands such as IDEA World, SCW Mania, canfitpro, AsiaFit, FitnessFest, and more. 


What drew you into the fitness industry, and what are the things you most enjoy about it? 

When it comes to what I enjoy most about the fitness industry, the diversity is what makes it so exhilarating and dynamic. We are not merely “personal trainers,” “group fitness instructors,” or “gym owners.” We are multifaceted professionals well-versed in various roles, tasks, movement styles, and marketing demands. I began my fitness career by teaching yoga to my college friends. Eventually I gained the attention of the Fitness Director at my university recreation center. He offered me a job, which I immediately turned down as I questioned if I could lead a “real” class. His response shaped my career: No one knows if they can lead, but you can show them it’s possible. Following graduation, I leaped into management of a local dance studio and as the Fitness Department Manager at Middle Tennessee State University. Additionally, I embarked on a path as a Master Trainer for Urban Striptease Aerobics and Savvier Fitness. Over the ensuing years, I wore several hats: conference presenter, ghostwriter, online media manager, website builder, lead master trainer, and education director. Now, I help businesses establish digital, virtual, and live wellness options, I present business development and marketing strategy courses for conferences such as IDEA PTI, IDEA WORLD, canfitpro, SCW Mania, and NASM Optima, and I speak on industry webinars and podcasts about fitness education, social media content, and business strategy. 


The mission of FIT4MOM aligns so well with the topic of this ebook; can you discuss how this organization is helping break down gender barriers? 

Being a mom can be overwhelming and isolating. Moms often lose their sense of identity. They fade into becoming “just” a mom. FIT4MOM was founded on the principle that motherhood doesn’t have to mean sacrificing personal well-being and a thriving career. We do more than build businesses—we build communities. Leadership, fitness expertise, and community building are just some of the skills that FIT4MOM franchisees develop through business ownership. This happens within a flexible framework, allowing you to make your business fit your schedule. My work with FIT4MOM unlocked multiple layers of my mission and passion. FIT4MOM fully encompasses everything I have been producing thus far – teaching women how to develop businesses that empower instructors and consumers to lead healthier and happier lives. The ripple from franchisee to instructor to mama reminds me of why I started my fitness career. No one knows if they can lead, but you can show them it’s possible. 


How have you experienced or witnessed gender barriers in the fitness industry? 

I’ve had the privilege of working under the guidance of remarkable, capable male and female leaders. I’ve observed a pattern where male leaders often advanced more swiftly and seamlessly within the industry – jumping from company to company or up the ladder of one. However, women who aspired to achieve similar career progression were sometimes unfairly perceived as arrogant or unreliable. This agility in career mobility can be attributed to various factors, including existing power structures, historical gender biases, and even a higher level of mentorship and sponsorship available to men in the field. This bias can lead to women being overlooked for opportunities, facing resistance when pushing for promotions, or experiencing higher scrutiny in their decision-making. I have been accused of being overly emotional during intense brainstorming or conversations with my male counterparts. During a hiring process, I was told that personal trainers should be male while group fitness instructors should be female. Another location told me that women teach the “fluff” while men should teach the “real fitness.” The fitness industry has to combat the same gender stereotypes as the rest of our culture, and I am hopeful that we are steadily on our way to a world with fewer expectations of gender norms.


How has your gender identity been a strength in your career journey? 

My career has been driven by compassion. I have a desire to help others achieve their full potential and this passion is not driven by the head, but rather by my heart. I prefer to believe my strengths lie outside of gender-specific stereotypes and align more with the foundational components that make a good human. Leading through a lens of compassion allows you to connect with people on a deeper level, understand their unique needs and challenges, and offer support and guidance that goes beyond the surface. Compassion-driven leadership is about empathy, active listening, and a commitment to the well-being and growth of those you serve. Is this a female identity marker? In the past, it has been seen as one, as women have stereotypically thrived with soft skills more so than males. I believe this statement is changing and the new generation of males is striving to offer leadership through open communication and positive motivation.


What tips, advice or insights do you have for women hoping to challenge gender barriers in the fitness industry? 

Never stop learning. To excel as a leader in this industry, continual education will be your most valuable resource. Nevertheless, it’s essential to understand that education need not be confined to formal fitness-related training alone. Consider exploring diverse learning avenues, including public speaking, psychology, and personal finance, as these can also greatly enrich your skill set and contribute to your success as a leader. Your educational journey should not solely revolve around becoming more intelligent, although that’s undoubtedly a valuable outcome. Instead, education should primarily focus on boosting your self-confidence and helping you discover your authentic voice and unique style – whether in training, coaching, teaching, or leading. It’s about being more self-assured and genuine in your approach to your clients. 


What do you hope the future of fitness looks like in terms of gender equality? 

I hope the future of our industry – as well as our society as a whole – has a lot more females leading from the top. Titles, job responsibilities, and compensation should be elevated for more females, while removing the vernacular of “just.” I hope women stop saying they are “just a part time coach” or “just a cycling instructor.” The use of the word “just” diminishes the woman’s scope of influence on her clients and team and prevents herself and others from seeing her full potential for growth.

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