© PHOTO: Private Photo

I do not see obstacles. I see only challenges

Dagmara Gerasimuk, got a place at the table. She actively works for more women to take place at the table together with her.  (Photo: Christoph Manzoni.  Picture is from an IBU Executive board meeting)

Text: Guro Askheim Johnsen for SHESKILLZGLOBAL.

Spending time with Dagmara Gerasimuk, you feel the positive energy in a good mix with strongness and competence. You fast conclude this is a person you want in your team if you’re going to succeed. A woman with the skills and personality necessary to succeed in all organizations, in and outside the sports world. Dagmara is one of these people with a sense of inclusion and rightness that can change the world. A role model for women in the Biathlon family and for all other women that meet her. She shows all is possible if you are willing to put down the needed work.

Dagmara after you finished your PhD in Physical Education Teaching and Coaching. You started your career as General Secretary for the Polish Biathlon Federation, was elected president in 2014 at the same time elected to IBUs development committee, presented in the Polish National Olympic Committee as a sports commission member. At the same time as you work as an academic teacher, then in 2018 you are elected to the Executive Board of IBU and today you have the position of IBU development director. You are also a former athlete yourself and a coach. When looking back, why did you choose biathlon to develop your professional career? 

I didn’t choose the biathlon, and the biathlon chose me. ‘Biathlon’ opened, as you mentioned in your overview, several doors during my career, and I just used the opportunities.

How did you develop your career from one position to the other? 

I collaborate with several mentors. I am not afraid of asking questions and discussing cases with experienced people. In addition, as an academic, I am reading a lot the relevant articles, trying to find some tips and hints from businesses and bring them to sports organizations.

What is it with this sport/organization/family that you love so much?

Collaboration, knowledge sharing and a multicultural environment. That allows me to have a broader perspective and understanding of various needs in and out of the organization, which is crucial in my work, especially right now. 

More well developed national federations, more teams at the podium, and more diverse and inclusive organizations.

You have already had different positions in biathlon, national and international and often been the only woman or one of few. 

Everything depends on your approach and self-confidence. However, it made me think about why it is like it is and brought me to the point where I am right now, advocating for change. That is clear that more diversity increases creativity and innovation and bring together varied perspectives. 

Why is gender equality and promoting other women essential for you? 

My awareness of the need for gender equality appeared relatively late. I didn’t feel any obstacles in my personal development during my entire career. On the contrary, I have always felt a whole part of each discussion, treated with respect. However, my opinion changed during the last years when I dug into the topic and realized that there are only a few women around me in the same position and understand the full meaning of gender equality and equity. Therefore, I needed to take my lesson. The turning point was when I watched the campaign, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see,’ during the Gender equality conference in Warsaw that I organized for IBU. The next step was unconscious bias training, which made me realize my personal bias towards women.  

Dagmara's time as a president of the National Federation. Private photo

Why do you think we find so many more men than women in sports executive management positions?  Why have the sport, in general, in your eyes, not succeeded with gender equality?

Women are well educated, talented and just as hardworking as their male counterparts. So what is the problem? Women don’t necessarily face significant barriers to entering the sports organizations in administrative positions, but they face multiple obstacles in advancement to executive boards. Talk after talking reveals that very often, it’s the impact of implicit bias—subconsciously held stereotypes. In our case, biathlon was always associated with military sport, reserved for men athletes and male executive management. We work to change this. All competitions for the athletes are always in the same arena for women and men, at the same weekend. The price of money is the same. We have a gender quality committee; we have cooperated with other international federations. Our last activity is our mentor program for women that we do in cooperation with SHESKILLZGLOBAL. Here we interviewed women, suggested from the National federations and elected from then 17 women that got a place in our mentor program. Each of these women has a clear goal for their career in biathlon towards administrative jobs, boards, and committees. Each of the participants has two mentors, one from SHESKILLZGLOBAL and one from IBU. Next to the sessions with their mentors, they work in task groups, and we will have two “face to face” meetings one in May 2022 as a part of a gender equality meeting and then in June where they also will present what they have worked within the task groups for the Executive Board of IBU. We also have as a goal that a minimum of 40 present of the women in this program will be mentors in the next program. When running programs like this, one success factor is ownership from the top of the organization. Next to me, both President Olle Dahlin and General Secretary Niklas Carlsson have ownership and actively support through attending meetings and sharing their experiences.         

In biathlon, you talk about the Biathlon Family – How have you managed to make a culture where people feel this also in the “day to day” life? 

I think it was always like that, and now, it is only growing. It is all about respect and building relations between strong and small by inviting everyone to discussion and sharing the information and resources.

Is the underlining of the “biathlon family” one of the reasons for the focus on gender equality in your sport?   

As I said in one interview, ‘it is smart and worth thing to do’. So, yes, we are outstanding in the sports field regarding gender equality, which needs to be underlined each time. We promote and appreciate both female and male sports heroes. But, being also a responsible organization and aiming to be a leader in good governance among winter sports, we are aware that we should focus more on some areas, mainly on governance and bring more women to decision making positions, which means explicitly to Executive Board, Technical Committee, and as well as Technical Delegates, Head Coaches.

IBU Congress 2018, just elected as EB member. Photo: Christian Manzoni

The Polish Olympic Committee award for promoting women in
sport as a coach and after the president of the federation.
Photo: Szymon Sikora.

Why is it not obvious for all sports?

There are many circumstances. For instance, to this day, female athletes still experience significantly less and different media coverage than their male counterparts in many sports.

Someone might think, why to invest in it and develop that is not popular. It’s a vicious circle. This topic requires a broader perspective and understanding of its impact on sports development in general, health in society, and social inclusion.

Added from the auditor: If you are interested in this topic, one of those that have done research on media coverage of female athletes is Toni Bruce, Professor, Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Auckland, New Zealand or Dunja Antunovic Assistant Professor at University of Minnesota.   

What does it mean for you to work in an organization with clear goals and a clear strategy for their gender equality work?

It means that I work for a modern and good governance organization with principles that I value in life. I believe that mixed leadership with mixed behavioural and cognitive skills, different experiences and perspectives is a powerful tool to perform better. The sports industry cannot deprive itself of female talent – as SHESKILLZGLOBAL motto says, ‘talent has no gender’.

As a part of the activities to reach the Biathlon Family gender equality goal, you have as we already have talked about set up a mentor program. 

Mentoring allows people to learn from one another, providing a path to knowledge transfer between two or more for the benefit of all. It allows building an international network of connections and experienced multicultural exchange. In my viewpoint, it also creates an organization’s (IBU) culture and makes our mentees from various National Federations feel invested in by biathlon. The reason for choosing SHESKILLZGLOBAL. We share the same values and beliefs. You showed us that you understand the sports organizations’ specificity and multicultural environment. Our programme was developed during extensive discussion and based on our needs and possibilities.

Next to being a part of the program committee, you are also a mentor. 

It is an engaging experienced being a mentor. To be a mentor remind me to strive for being a better leader. You bring out the best in others, recognize strengths and weaknesses, how to get the next development step, how to give relevant advice, and be supportive, work on yourself to allow changes.

My background helps me a lot. I experienced climbing my development stairs during the last couple of years, from being an athlete to leading the sports organization and at the same time developing my academic career in sports university and being a mother. I do not see obstacles. I see only challenges.

When looking back at your career, what were your best choices so far?

The best choice was choosing my partner. Having a Partner- Family that supports you is one of the most important keys to my success. Then you can reach your career goals without compromise.

What advice can you offer other women who want to climb the career ladder, to be successful? 

I do not have any gold rules that fits all. In my career, I always said that success is achieving your goals according to your values. So be ambitious, and do not stop developing yourself. Set up new goals and have the courage to withdraw from something that is not in line with your personal values and beliefs.

Private photo. From her time as president of the National Federation

SHESKILLZGLOBAL vision is «A world where talent has no gender». 

  • What does this mean for you?

It means that we discuss competencies, skills and experience, and nothing more. No time to waste. Let’s do it.

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