‘Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t achieve’


Rugby provides the perfect example of sport as a force for women’s empowerment through its values of teamwork and commitment, which Societe Generale has celebrated during its 30-year sponsorship of the game globally.

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In last week’s ’60 minutes’ all-staff webinar co-organised by the Gender Diversity Network (SG For She) and Valley RFC, Grant Beuzeval, Valley RFC’s Chief Operating Officer, steered a dialogue with three successful and energetic women who have succeeded in business, life and sport. 

The trio shared their insights into three broad themes: competitiveness, confidence and improvement; stress and managing work/life balance; and their advice to the viewers. 

Grit and resilience

Gaelle Olivier, Chief Executive Officer, Asia Pacific, Societe Generale, is an ultra-trail runner and yoga practitioner in her spare time, both of which have helped her to grow self-confidence. “Ultra trail running has notably developed my mental strength to face the unexpected with curiosity and grit. Yoga practice is providing me with balance and self-consciousness” she said. “Both have proven very valuable during these exceptional Covid times.” 

Kim Boreham, partner at law firm Tanner De Witt, started playing rugby aged 29 and went on to represent Hong Kong in the sport. “As a child, a coach told me girls couldn’t play rugby,” she recalled. “I found that as a team member you don’t have to be a superstar: hard work, practice and commitment are the fundamentals of team sport.” 

Ada Tsang, the first woman from Hong Kong to reach the summit of Everest, played a variety of sports as a girl and found climbing reinforced her professional role as a teacher. “I wanted to encourage my students to expect high and achieve high: youngsters love challenges, so I challenged myself to show them by my actions how to succeed.” 

Engaging in sport can develop resilience in the face of setbacks. Ada had to abandon her first two attempts on Everest due to events beyond her control. “I didn’t take those disappointments as failures: I saw them as a chance for me to be stronger,” she said. 

“You can’t worry about the mistakes you make in the game,” explained Kim. “You have to pick yourself up and try to do better – both in that game and the next.” She also pointed to the “incredible stress release” she gained from her sport. “In a team environment, you can’t worry about anything else: you can only focus on the sport,” she said. 

Achieving balance

Working women can find it difficult to fit sport into a life already busy with the demands of job and family. But Kim pointed out, “you only have one life and you have to find time to live it.” Gaelle commits to one hour’s exercise a day. “It’s my discipline in life but it also makes me feel good.” This ‘buffer time’ is “a signal that I’m still in control of my life. If I can’t achieve seven hours per week then my work and life are not in balance and this is an encouragement to regain control over my time.” 

Ada pointed out that some women can still feel guilty about giving their time to sport. “In 2017 I had five teammates and four dropped out to look after family,” she recalled. Kim added, “it’s healthier for the family if the woman is involved in sport – good for the children if their mother is active.” 

Taking baby steps

Asked to advise women and girls starting out in sport, Gaelle suggested to start one step at a time, with no external pressure, walking a few minutes per day and enjoying it is already a good start. Then leveraging coaches readily available through apps on your phones for instance can ease the way into a healthy routine, be it for yoga, muscle building or hiking. Kim advocated joining a team: “Hong Kong is great for team sports – look for people at your own level and ask questions.” For Ada, it’s simple: “find a sport you really love,” she advised. 

Health and wellbeing are the ultimate benefits for everyone who exercises. “Strong mental health comes from a strong body,” said Ada. Kim sees it as providing social and professional benefits too: “you meet like-minded people, build a support network, and have fun,” she pointed out. “Rugby became my family in Hong Kong and enabled me to meet a diverse range of people.” 

Set your own limits

The panellists agreed that all women and girls can benefit from participating in sport. “Sport is not a luxury,” said Kim. “Women these days have the choice to take up a sport – and just playing is empowering.” Gaelle also sees sport as empowering for women. “Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t achieve: set your own limits,” she advised. “Sport can help us to go beyond what we think we can achieve: to move into unknown territories and find the strengths we undervalue. We can do much more than we think we can.” 

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