#InspireInclusion this International Women’s Day

Inspire Inclusion Graphic of Donna, Marilyn and Fatima

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) is ‘Inspire Inclusion’, a subject the Personal Best Foundation and the sport of athletics understands only too well. 

For more than a century, IWD has celebrated everything and everybody committed to forging women’s equality, something the Personal Best Foundation is working hard to achieve through its team of amazing ambassadors. The Personal Best Foundation was created to help open the door to opportunities through the power of athletics and put a world of possibilities at the feet of the most disadvantaged children and young people in England. 

Fatima Whitbread

And the Foundation’s Ambassadors all have incredible stories to tell about exactly that; Fatima Whitbread became the World Champion for the javelin despite a challenging upbringing in a children’s home. Today through the Foundation and Fatima’s Campaign she works at helping children and young people in the care system sector.  

“I want to inspire youngsters who come from disadvantaged backgrounds like me,” she says. “I was abandoned as a baby and spent my first 14 years in children’s homes. Sport was my saviour,” she continues. “For me it was all about throwing – at first rounders’ balls and then ultimately the javelin, which culminated in a gold medal at the 1987 World Champs.” 

Profile picture Donna Fraser

Donna Fraser has an equally inspirational story that saw her finish fourth in the Olympic Games 400m in Sydney 2000. But having received a breast cancer diagnosis in 2009, Fraser switched her focus, to driving equality, diversity and inclusion within the workplace and was subsequently awarded an OBE for her work.  

“I was very, very determined as a child, apparently. It was like, Donna wants to do something, so Donna will do it. That's always been in my DNA. If I set myself out to do something, I'll aim to achieve it to the best of my abilities and stay focused with it,” she told the Mercedes Benz F1 team at a talk devoted to inspiring inclusivity in the workplace. “Through my own breast cancer journey as well, I do believe I was given a second chance and to appreciate life in general. And just make the most of life. Not put things off all the time. Seize the moment, I think that's really important.” 

And seize it she has. For athletics fans, Fraser will long be remembered for her sprinting prowess; she won six English Schools’ 200m titles before an amazing career as a senior athlete, but it’s life beyond the track that where she really has made a huge contribution to sport and inclusivity. Her parents, part of the Windrush generation were told ‘don’t come back’ by the local vicar and it’s their strength that has helped her achieve what she has today. “I don't ever remember feeling the tension they’d have had but now I know what they went through. But at the same time, it gives me strength that they had that resilience and overcame,” she told the Daily Mirror. 

It's something she works on continually and was Head of Inclusion and Engagement at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. She was also involved in British Athletics' ‘Let's Talk About Race’ programme, which was set-up to tackle racial inequality in the sport. Simultaneously, The Professional Cricketers’ Association in London recognised her expertise, bringing her on board as Director of Equality Diversity and Inclusion, in October 2022. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg for Fraser, a sub 50-second 400m runner at her best. She’s also chaired the award-winning BAME Network at EDF Energy for three years and spearheaded several key ED&I partnerships, including Microsoft and Breast Cancer Now. 

Marilyn Okoro in GB kit

Olympic bronze medallist Marilyn Okoro is as busy and has devoted her life to championing women in sport despite her mother not being keen on her becoming a runner. “I didn’t send you to school to run, read your books and become a doctor, she’d say. She hated it, that I went to this amazing school, and I told her I wanted to be a runner. I think that day she was just devastated,” she said in an England Athletics podcast. “She’s quite strict, a Nigerian mum, and so I really had to prove to her that I was going to be a model student and also this running thing was serious, and she finally took me seriously when I got to the Olympics.” 

Her career included a bronze medal in the 4x400m at the 2008 Games in Beijing, but it is her work after athletics that has really caught the eye. Today, Okoro is an accomplished talent acquisition lead championing women and athletes in the workplace, she is also the lead mentor in a programme created to empower girls in sport and has talked about the issues surrounding women and body acceptance with global media giant CNN. She has also founded a podcast series called Detach the Stigma devoted to driving change in professional sport for women. Okoro regularly delivers webinars on a range of subjects including detaching the stigma when it comes to eating disorders and the wider Black community and is one of the diverse contributors to the recently published book ‘Eating Disorders don’t discriminate’. 

International Women’s Day is on March 8th and is all about inspiring inclusivity (#InspireInclusion). It’s a day for everybody and everybody can get involved. Organisations, groups, and individuals worldwide can all play a part – in the community, at work, at home, and beyond. To truly include women means to openly embrace their diversity of race, age, ability, faith, body image, and how they identify. Worldwide, women must be included in all fields of endeavour.