Sports have the power to change lives.
Dr. Kimberly Clay wanted to tap into that power when she founded Play Like A Girl, a Nashville-based nonprofit whose mission is to “level the playing field by leveraging the skills girls gain from sport to propel young women into competitive, male-dominated careers in STEM+.”
While the organization started as a purely sports-focused organization targeting childhood obesity, it evolved into something bigger thanks to some eye-opening information.
“We evolved to recognize that sport was a gateway to many other opportunities for girls,” Dr. Clay said. “In 2014 we made the shift to align our work with science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There was a global study recognizing that of the women who were in the C-Suite, 94% of them played a sport, and 56% of them did so through college. That was really an ‘a-ha moment’ for us in which we recognized that the potential that we had to change a girl's life was much deeper and more vast than we had considered even in the past focusing on health.”
Play Like A Girl’s programming includes partnerships in soccer, tennis and flag football, after school programs, career networking opportunities, and summer/school break camps. Their most recent camp came during spring break in Mount Juliet.
Dr. Clay says the organization’s work is all about breaking down the barriers that persist in sports and STEM by reaching girls at the middle school age as they begin to ponder career choices.
“The beauty of our work in STEM and sport is that the two travel together and women are underrepresented in both,” Dr. Clay said. “So, our mission as an organization is to leverage the skills that girls gained from sport to help propel them into male-dominated careers. What we recognize is that women are underpaid. They don't have the longevity in their sports careers, as do men, because of the barriers around gender, pay equity in particular. The same is the case in the workplace. It would take us perhaps two generations to achieve parity, especially in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. And so, as those gaps begin to close, still the gap is persistent and so we know that we have to start earlier, which is why we focus on really intervening with girls during the middle school years before they're making those cemented decisions around coursework and directions for their careers.”
One of the girls that has benefitted from Play Like A Girl’s programming has been 14-year-old Hadley. She has attended numerous camps, networking events and most recently spoke at the organization’s Women’s Leadership Summit.
Hadley said the ability to play sports has already made an impact on her life.
“It's something you can look forward to and you stick with it through the years,” she said. “It teaches you to work as a team and do stuff with other people and especially if you don't know them, you can meet new people through sports and still do something you love.”
According to Dr. Clay, seeing girls like Hadley thrive, and in turn mentor other girls to find that same joy, makes all of her efforts worthwhile.
“I'd say the most meaningful work is when I see a girl's eyes light up after she has tried a science experiment and it's failed multiple times and it finally works. In our celebration of International Women's Day, we held our annual Women's Leadership Summit and we had a segment dedicated to Hadley. Her segment was “Hacked with Hadley,” and she was paired with a mother-daughter duo who were engineers. Part of the experiment was about the power of energy and the power of light, and how each of us has a light. Our whole focus that day was on mentorship and role models, as well as the roles that women play in helping position and propel young women forward in STEM careers and in sport. They were able to ignite that light, spark that light for sport, but also for STEM. That feeling of celebration that they were able to successfully execute the actual experiment and then teach a new generation of girls how to conduct it.”
Nashville SC is supporting Play Like A Girl this month with a limited-edition Women’s History Month patch. All proceeds from the patch go directly to Play Like A Girl. Click here to get yours.
Dr. Clay says she’s grateful for the club’s support, as the two organizations share a common vision.
“For us, our model is ‘inspiring play, unlocking potential,’” she said. “And that's exactly what you're doing in Nashville Soccer Club. You're helping partners like Play Like a Girl inspire the game of soccer in a generation that has so much potential and for girls, we are truly unlocking opportunities that they've never even considered.”