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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

TLC Blog – What Am I Missing?

The three TLC supervisors sat down across from me at the coffee shop almost ten years ago at the end of a TLC summer. Liz. Jordan. Angie. I had been director for about three years.

Liz (now our Assistant Director of Tennis Programming, then a TLC Supervisor), began calmly. “Women are not being treated the same way as men here. By campers. By male staff. In programming. And you are going to lose your female supervisors if something is not done about it.”

My initial reaction was to get defensive. I had tried to include women in every aspect of life and work, and made it a commitment for inclusivity at TLC from the outset. I married a strong woman, Leandra, who did not take guff and said (and continues to say) “Until we deal with sexism, the other ‘isms’ are not going away.” Half of the world’s population do not have the same freedoms, access to education, religious leadership opportunities, ability to earn equal pay, as the other half.

We raised a daughter, Madeline, who takes after her mother. She does not take guff. She calls it what it is: a society built to support the thousands of years of male dominant culture. And

though I have learned and supported efforts to dismantle this unfair system, as a person in power because of my own gender, I do not have to look deeply if it gets too uncomfortable. I can turn away.

So there sat Liz, Jordan, and Angie. Three powerful women who were asking for nothing more than they deserved: equal power and respect. And there I was across from them coming up with feeble attempts to justify what measures we had been taking for three years. More females in supervisory roles. A presence in off court talks and demonstrations. Female players playing in demonstrations.

But they held my feet to the fire. Supervisory roles are not equal if the males on staff don’t treat them as such. Teaching isn’t equal if a camper asks a first-year male instructor to confirm what a fifteen-year veteran female supervisor has suggested. And demos aren’t equal if it is just a token “bone” thrown to placate someone’s desire for true change.

So began the work. And probably the most important question I now ask at almost every meeting where an important decision has to be made: What am I missing?

I am not a woman. I have not experienced harassment the way most women and girls have, nor have I been infantilized or sexualized the way our society infantilizes and sexualizes women and girls. I have not had to fight to play sports the way my contemporary female colleagues

and friends did, or be taken seriously in the classroom, or break into the previously male-dominated medical, law, and business schools. I have not been paid less for the same work. I have not been afraid to take solo early morning or late night walks. I have not been talked over during meetings or had my ideas stolen by a man who takes credit for my work.

What am I missing? It turns out a lot.

The most important thing I was missing was that without women at the table – really at the table with a voice – the only ideas that get through to fruition are those proposed by people who have not experienced what half of the world experiences. And that, my friends, is a big gap.

Liz and the others proposed and enacted ways for women to educate staff and campers to become more aware of our unconscious biases. To learn how to be bystanders who, when witnessing behavior that is denigrating, call it out and act. Who admit when they make mistakes and apologize and then do the work to learn more.

TLC implemented gender bias training, increased the actual roles of women on and off court, created a culture of pulling in the same direction. If someone could not get on board, they left the ship, or weren’t invited on in the first place. We told every applicant about this training in advance (and our training in racial, religious, LGBTQ+ biases) so they could decide if they wanted to be a part of a team where this was as critical as any tennis instruction or Three Crowns teaching. Because we cannot truly demonstrate the Three Crowns of Positive Attitude, Full Effort, and Good Sportsmanship without every staff member and camper feeling they have a place where they belong. Where they are heard, seen, and valued.

All of this began with three women who said we don’t want lip service. We want change. Are we all the way there? No. Because “there” is a long journey. But without the voices of Liz, Jordan, and Angie, we wouldn’t have even started the journey.

I was missing a lot. I still do.

And the only way I will not be missing a lot is to have people at the decision table whose voices are not traditionally heard and valued. Women. People of color. Folks who are LGBTQ+. Different religions.

This is Women’s History Month. It is not on women to educate us. It is on us to seek out the experiences that will educate us. And then act to support and make necessary change.

Thank you Liz, Jordan, Angie and all the women who came before you and have come after at TLC who laid the groundwork for substantive change. So that the answer to the question “What am I missing?”, I hope becomes “Less and less” as we move towards a more equitable world.


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