International Women’s Day, celebrated on 8 March, is a globally recognised celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women in the past, present and future. To commemorate the day, UWA Sport caught up with several female athletes to hear their stories, and find out what IWD means to them.
Hear from swimming star and UWA alumni Heidi Gan below.
In the media, we so often read about women executives & entrepreneurs being typified by their private lives, rather than goals and business ideals like their male counterparts. How can we move beyond this narrow categorisation of women?
I believe habit has a large part to play in the tendency to categorise women in such a way. However, nothing exasperates me more than when somebody says to me “it’s just the way it is” and “that’s the way it always will be”. There is absolutely no reason for something to remain the same, particularly when there is no good reason for such a habit in the first place!
I believe one way we can move beyond such tendencies is to challenge the status quo by questioning these tendencies and discussing the underlying issues.
This doesn’t even need to start with journalists and reporters, it can start with us. For example, when I meet new people (and particularly women), I don’t jump to asking “do you have any children?” or “are you married?” (which are often questions I receive), but instead I ask them about their career accomplishments or about the goals they have in their life.
What were the main drivers in helping you succeed in in your career?
I am an intrinsically motivated person, so for me, my motivation has really been about pushing myself to my limits physically, mentally and emotionally, to test my barriers and find out who I am. I have experienced a lot of adversity particularly in my sporting career, and I truly believe it has shaped me into the person I am today.
What advice did you receive early in your career that has stayed with you?
Appreciate your self-worth. Early on in my career, I always thought I didn’t know enough and I wasn’t smart enough. I’ve come to learn that, while I may not be some things, I am definitely others.
For example, I am a fast learner and have excellent time management and communication skills which I use every day to improve on my weaknesses. I think women in particular have a tendency to not value themselves as highly as they would others. It is something I am still working on but I have learnt to value my skillset and appreciate that what I bring to my career is unique and valuable.
How do you most people struggle to achieve a work life balance. How do achieve a work, life and sport balance?
Achieving a work/life/sport balance has been a recurring challenge throughout most of my sporting career! I have always worked, studied or both while swimming and I quickly learnt in order to do all of those things to the best of my ability, I had to be very good at managing my time. I have also had to learn to draw boundaries in my life.
So when I would leave the pool to go to work in the morning, I would leave whatever happened in the pool whether it was a good or a terrible session, at the pool so that I could focus on work when I got to the office. And vice versa. When I would leave the office to head to the pool for my afternoon session, I would do my best to leave whatever happened in the office behind so I could focus on my training.
It also helped me put things into perspective – for example, if I had a bad training session in the morning, I couldn’t carry that over into work because I would be working on deals worth potentially millions of dollars that couldn’t be compromised by my bad mood from my training session! And in between all that, I also had to learn to say ‘no’ so I could enjoy life in between work and training!
Who inspires you and why?
My parents are a big inspiration for me. They left Malaysia without ever having been to Australia before and moved here without knowing anyone in Australia so their family could live a better life.
My dad, who barely spoke much English at the time, opened up a car repairs workshop (which is still going strong 30 years later!) and my mum worked nightshift as a registered nurse so that my sister and I could go to a good school and have opportunities my parents couldn’t have in Malaysia.
My parents were always there whenever I had a swimming competition and drove me to training every day at 4:30am and again in the afternoon afterschool until I was old enough to drive myself. The pure selflessness of theirs acts inspires me to pursue my goals – my struggles and challenges pale in comparison to what my parents gave up for my sister and I!
Graduate Officer, UWA Sport Marketing, Communication and Events