The one-day summit brings together 150 Canadian high-school students to be mentored alongside Olympians. Creating a space to open up about the emotions of growing up was the focus of this year’s event. In the days leading up, Beirness gets personal about her teenage years, the lack of female role models, and why her role with TSN’s SportsCentre is helping close the gap. She believes women leaders have a greater opportunity to encourage young women to develop their potential.
SportsCentre Host Kate Beirness is playing her part in continuing the conversation, as she prepares to hold the third annual Her Mark on July 20th. Beirness founded the summit in 2016 to empower young girls to develop their leadership potential. This year, the event welcomed 150 high-school students, who are leading in their schools and communities, to be inspired to continue on the path of their commitments. Beirness welcomes Canadian Olympians to the event each year to share stories that will give participants confidence in their talents. People who are selected exhibit leadership traits like being the president of the student council, playing on sports teams while maintaining their grades, and volunteering in their community.
Beirness, who has hosted SportsCentre for the last decade, calls Her Mark “her favourite day of the year.” For the past three years she’s given young girls an opportunity to be inspired and motivated by the generation of women ahead of them - individuals who have fought to stay on a path whether in sports or television and have succeeded. “We need these girls to believe and recognize that they can do incredible things,” said Beirness. “There’s no reason they can’t be confident. There’s no reason they can’t run a company.” Once girls enter adolescence, their participation in sports drops by 22 per cent, according to the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity.
Female role models weren’t as visible when Beirness, 35, was growing up in the small town of Port Perry, Ontario. She had gym teachers, but they weren’t accessible the way digital technology and social media allows athletes and leaders to be today. Before the Women’s World Cup began, Beirness interviewed Canadian women’s soccer team captain and icon Christine Sinclair, who didn’t have any female role models when she was growing up. “Christine Sinclair wears her number because of Roberto Alomar,” said Beirness of the interview. “When I was a kid I didn’t have a female sportscaster on TV. Now you can look up to Kia Nurse, if you’re a basketball player, Marie-Phillip Poulin, if you’re a hockey player, and Christine Sinclair, if you’re a soccer player—it’s so different.”
WOMEN EMPOWERING WOMEN
Beirness came up with the idea under her contract with Under Armour. She wanted to do something once a year that would mean everything to her— females empowering females. In the rise of #MeToo and sports lawsuits being filed for pay inequality, such as that of the United States women’s national soccer team, women are finding the strength to speak their truth and stand for what they believe in. But there’s a more fundamental missing piece says Beirness. “Women aren’t bringing women up with them enough. Women for too many years have cut each other down, we’ve talked behind each other’s backs, and I’m done with it.” She points to what she’s learned about women in sports and her own interactions at TSN: “There are a lot of good women who want to see women succeed. When a young woman comes into TSN and I know she’s a more talented broadcaster than I am, I’m thankful. Because you know what, she’s going to make everyone around her better.”
A SAFE SPACE TO SHOW EMOTION
The emotional openness and connection that has grown naturally at Her Mark, between the young women and the athletes, is one of the greatest benefits for Beirness. In breakout groups, the girls meet with mentors, to talk about things they’re going through at school, at work, or within relationships. Beirness says she was “blown away by how open these girls were,” signaling a need to talk about the pressures of social media on their lives. “I can’t fathom what they go through. They’re willing to open up, so we have to initiate and engage.” It’s a core component of the day that Beirness looks forward to each year. CTV’s The Social Marcie Ien will be a guest at this year’s event to share her experiences with social media and how to deal with criticism and self-doubt.
Beirness looks inward and reflects on being a public figure and the confronting messages that come through on social media. “I get told by someone every day on Twitter, “you’re a joke on TV and I can’t stand listening to you.” But, Beirness lets the criticism drop. “I’ll be like, ‘cool.’” She wants to use her own response to help girls understand and relate that you can choose to not take people’s comments personally.
In entrepreneurial and corporate environments, where the acceptance and encouragement of emotions like empathy is still developing, Beirness admits the reality of her role with TSN, “I’ve been with Sportscentre for 10 years and I can’t be anything but happy. If you’re having a terrible day, you have to go to work and put on a front.” She opens up because she wants girls to know that what they see isn’t always reality. “We might portray a certain look or feeling as Olympians, but you’re going to step up, if you have a competition and do what you have to do,” said Beirness. “There’s no reason why you can’t show emotion or have a human side. I can be vulnerable at Her Mark and I can’t be vulnerable on TV. As I’m getting older I care less about putting on a front 24/7—I’m more myself.”
MORE SELF-BELIEF AND CONFIDENCE
The event is already seeing positive effects like the increase of self-belief among the participants. In the year past, one of the girls’ parents reached out about her daughter, describing her as looking like an athlete: strong, muscular, built. This particular girl was in Canadian trampoline gymnast Rosie MacLennan’s group for the day. Her daughter came home after the event and said, “Mom, I’m built like Rosie MacLennan.” This girl was body conscious through all of high school, and now she has a new found confidence; she accepts herself as she is and takes pride in looking like and being an athlete. “That’s exactly what we want,” said Beirness. Not all girls are six feet tall and 110 pounds. No, they look like athletes.”
THE REMARKABLE WAY FORWARD
While Her Mark is still in its infancy - Beriness and her team don’t have the capacity yet to continue a mentorship program post-event that tracks and encourages the progress of participants or lends a listening ear when it’s needed - she’s hopeful the event will grow in scale and scope within the next five years. “Even if the summit changes one girl to gain more confidence, we will have accomplished something for sure.”
Beirness has a message for people, who want to give back, “Don’t be scared to do it. Entrepreneurs take risks unlike anyone else; why not take a risk on doing something that’s meaningful?”