‘The rise of women is not about fall of men’

Major Heather Stanning OBE RA and Major Jennifer Kehoe MBE RE

For this year’s International Women’s Day, the West Midlands Combined Authority invited speakers from across the region who are breaking the bias in sport, arts and culture.

The morning began with an introduction from Colonel Paul Gilby, the Commander of the West Midlands. Only 13% of the armed forces are female, something Col Gilby says he aims to change.

“As a man, it’s about having an ear to the voice and acting on it,” he said. “‘The rise of women is not about fall of men – it’s about breaking the bias. This stigma needs to be fought.”

Two women, however, who have had successful military careers alongside achieving Olympic medals are Major Heather Stanning OBE RA and Major Jennifer Kehoe MBE RE.

Heather and her rowing partner, Helen Glover, famously struck gold at London 2012, they became the first British women ever to win an Olympic rowing title. She is a double Olympic champion, double World champion, quadruple World Cup champion and double European champion and was ranked number 1 female rower in the world in 2016.

Whilst Jennifer, who retired last summer, was a professional skier that formerly competed with visually impaired athlete Menna Fitzpatrick as her sighted guide. Jennifer has represented Great Britain winning four medals including gold at the Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Games in South Korea. The two become Britain’s most decorated winter Paralympians.

Discussing the mind of elite athletes, Heather and Jennifer presented how to work as a team, how to deal with failure, how to be resilient and trust each other.

Jennifer, who tore her ACL in 2015 preventing her from competing in the Sochi Paralympics said, “My life has been a series of failures from my AS levels, to wanting to be Naval Officer.

“But failure is about perception – all of these things were teaching me things. The biggest thing however is having the resilience to pick yourself back up.”

Following on from Jennifer, Heather described her disappointment when she lost 1st place by 0.8 seconds at the World Championships.

“We were disappointed. But it was all about perspective. We can change our race but not oppositions, we can blame things or we can own it.

“You just have to focus on the things that you can impact.”