‘I believe every disadvantage is an opportunity to create an advantage…’ so says Francesca Brown who founded the female football development programme Goals4Girls. The barriers she faced whilst being the only female footballer in her school led her to found the organisation, which empowers young women to increase their self-esteem and confidence through sports and education.
Francesca tells us about why she believes there has been a significant shift regarding the taboos around women in business and sport and why the advice her Grandmother gave her inspires her to never give up.
Who is your inspiration and why?
A whole generation of women have inspired me from Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey to my Grandmother. Why? Because these are all women who have defied the odds, all of which are inspirational strong women, with something different to offer the world and with a story to tell. Women who use their voices to create change and contribute towards society no matter what – whether that’s socially, economically, culturally, and politically, are inspiring! I’ve been following inspiring women leaders, entrepreneurs, business movers-and-shakers, writers and others on the cutting edge of thought leadership, and I’m still awed and amazed at how much there is out in the world to be inspired by. I do not wish to idealise one person as there are thousands of women in the world who inspire me daily and I like to cherry pick these attributes to not only assist my personal growth. To be inspired by another is to be reminded that what stirs us so deeply about someone else is, in fact, possible within ourselves.
What does success in life look like to you?
There will always be a moving shift to what defines success, but one thing I have learnt is by setting the bar high you are able to achieve so much more, success is much deeper than money and power ‘success is growth’, liking yourself and being fully aligned with your purpose.
Are there still taboos around subjects related to women that you feel need to be broken or need greater awareness?
I feel there has been a significant shift regarding the taboos around women in business and women in sport, which I hold closely to my heart. Media awareness is having a high impact in society and creating greater awareness around gender equality. Women are setting the bars high, and campaigns around women in sports and women in society are encouraging a whole generation of female athletes, advocates and business women. Although these subjects are being broken down, I feel there is more to be done around gender equality. Despite the achievements of women, they still earn less, occupy fewer leadership roles and generally have less influence. The Media has a major part to play in limiting these beliefs, by providing platforms and outlets for successful women to be celebrated. I think it’s easier for someone when they see someone that’s in a position, and they can imagine themselves in that position. The more you see that, the more you believe in yourself. Young women need female role models to inspire success. I think now with all the conversations, people are taking a breath and thinking outside the usual box.
What do you feel will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
This generation is the state of digital. With media influence on the rise, young women are captivated around creating a lifestyle which is not reality. I believe social media has led to a moral crisis with our younger generation; and how that must be turned around in the classroom, through parenting, and in our community. Social media is the new drug, eradicating face to face communication, and socialization. Although my beliefs may sound biased, I do believe also that social media can be used positively to empower the next generation, but whilst there is a lack of role models a majority of young women (not all) will feel empowered through generating attention to themselves. Young women are not enjoying the age they are, rather they thrive off likes, changing their appearance, which can lead to a lack of gratitude, low self esteem and a complex. Most, including myself, would believe that recent media influences are harmful to the development of young women. Women are getting the wrong idea about how they should look and act. They are told this is the way they should look and act and therefore follow the “role models”, or lack thereof, into traps. These traps include mental and ultimately sometimes physical consequences.
Have there been occasions in your life where you felt that being a woman held you back, and occasions where it has propelled you?
I have never felt held back being a woman, rather the opposite. I have never allowed someone’s opinion of me become my reality. I have always used my disadvantages and beliefs to make a difference, being the only female footballer in my school and the barriers I faced whilst participating in sport, has only led me to find my purpose by founding the organization Goals4Girls. ‘Besides I always like to go against the norm’. I believe every disadvantage is an opportunity to create an advantage, not only in your own life but in society.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given and why?
My Grandmother always said to me ‘stay grounded as you will never forget your why?’ This is the best piece of advice I’ve had, by not forgetting my why I remember to be grateful for what I have and to keep working hard for what I want. It has inspired me to never give up! As there is a reason to why I started.
If you had to start over, knowing what you know now, what if anything, would you do differently?
I would not change a thing, as my experiences have helped me grow.
What would you say is one of the biggest advances in your industry or sector over the past five years? On the reverse, is there any aspect of your sector you feel is still not progressive enough when it comes to women?
Investment in women’s sport has become a priority. Over the last few years we have applauded certain campaigns like This Girl Can, who have helped to advance the role of women in sport and society. Due to this publicity sports is on the rise which has helped shift attitudes and changed behaviours, recognizing female achievements thus creating role models for our future generation. Incredible progress has been made, however I feel there now needs to be more investment and focus at grassroots level as there is limited opportunities for young women to access female teams in their local areas, restricting their chances and optimisms of progressing and staying actively involved in the game.
How do you feel about International Women’s Day?
This day is marked to celebrate and acknowledge women who have contributed to society, focusing on the inspiring, courageous work women around the world are doing to shape equitable societies. I feel it is important as it breaks the silence once again, to remind the world of how far women have come. It is important to resurface the stories of women who have used their voices and have achieved amazing results despite the odds. It is an opportunity to give thanks for the generations of amazing women who have come before us and the generations of phenomenal women still to come!
Looking at the future, what do you feel the young women of today can be most excited about?
There has been huge changes for women across all sectors and industries. And it is exciting to see that there are women today creating pathways for the younger generation to access positions in sports, politics, communities and business which was uncommon of a few years back. I enjoy that I can turn on the Television and turn to Sky sports and see women like Rachel Brown Finnes and Kirsty Gallacher presenting or female linesman/ referees like Maggie Farrelly. They are opening doors for the younger generation along with a handful of women across the board, and this is exciting.