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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

Liz Retzlaff: Truth-teller


“I’ve known Liz since I started working at TLC 8 years ago. She’s experienced being the only woman in a leadership role at times, sexism from coworkers and campers, and many times where she’s felt alone. And through all of that she’s persisted and is one of the strongest leaders, male or female, in our organization. To have another strong female leader alongside me is something many women do not experience in the workplace. She makes female leadership at TLC visible, strong, and a force to be reckoned with. Because of Liz, young girls and women can see a leader and eventually go on and be a leader themselves.” Kinzee Salo, TLC Assistant Director Seven or eight years ago, Liz Retzlaff and two other female supervisors requested a meeting with me at summer’s end. They detailed ways men were treated preferentially over women, and ways women were being dismissed or not respected by some male staff and campers. It was hard to hear, because I was a person who prided himself as being an ally for women’s causes and providing equal opportunities. But they – not I – were right. As TLC’s director, I had failed to see this. I could not see the depth of the problem because I had never experienced it as they had. So TLC committed to the process of implementing the changes recommended by Liz and our female staff, and began to educate our whole staff on gender bias and ways to promote equity. “Liz has done so much for TLC. She is a leader at the camps both on and off the court, and the camps simply wouldn’t run the same without her. She has been an amazing leader for me and I consider myself so lucky to be impacted by her.” Natalie Wijesinghe, TLC Supervisor We know there are those who say there is no such thing as unequal treatment or opportunity, that women are making it up. That “mansplaining” isn’t a thing. That “harassment” is mostly women and girls being “sensitive”, or not being able to take a “joke”, or it is brought on by women themselves. That objectification of women and girls in print, recording, and visual media and in images society posts is a non-issue. That our choice of language in our schools, businesses, sports, and places of worship doesn’t impact and perpetuate the inequity. But we unequivocally say, we believe the women who experience this and are working to dismantle systems that perpetuate this.

“Liz is the perfect champion for TLC’s commitment to gender equity, and I look to Liz for guidance on how to be a better player, coach, and person. She blends kindness, humor, and wisdom in every interaction. She is a steadfast advocate for women and never avoids challenging the countless gender stereotypes that exist in sports, broadly, and tennis, specifically. Liz challenged my assumptions of what women can do and will continue to inspire countless campers and instructors with her commitment to the Three Crowns.” Brendan Klein, TLC Instructor Does Liz get tired of having to bring to light the right of women to have the same opportunities as men? Yes. Would TLC have changed without her? No. And we will keep learning, because following in Liz’ footsteps have come more visionary, unapologetic women. And, finally, slowly, and clumsily at first, the men on our staff (including me), are “getting it”, and speaking up, and recognizing the imperative to change. “Liz has been one of the most significant role models for me as I’ve grown into an adult. Her capacity for empathy is unmatched, and yet she is unafraid of being fiercely authentic. She was the first person to affirm to me that those two qualities can indeed coexist, and they should. For me, Liz shattered the myth that I need to be a passive, people-pleaser in order to be perceived as warm, kind, and respectful. There is no doubt in my mind that thousands of campers and staff members, especially our female campers and staff members, have been forever changed because of Liz Retzlaff. I know that I would not be the person I am today if not for her.” Ally Baker, TLC Supervisor

It is not just women’s jobs to continually fight what is a monumental task. It is my job. And yours, I hope. We can all learn how to better do this, no matter our age or background. How to become educated. How to speak up. How to listen. I am still learning. TLC is still learning. And we are so much stronger now for being able to use the full talents of all our staff. And for that, I say, thank you, Liz.

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