I Am Generation Equality, and I Have the Battle Scars to Prove It

Rules of engagement I learned from roller derby

Have I walked on the moon or found a remedy for freaky viruses that threaten the world? Nope. But I do celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women every day. The women who rally around and lift each other up to better their lives and provide examples of what strength and inclusivity look like for girls striving to become fierce women.

Change, according to the United Nations, "isn't about big headline moments, legal victories and international agreements: the way we talk, think, and act every day can create a ripple effect that benefits everyone."

Hell yes. 

To say we have a long way to go to achieve the gender equality the UN is calling for by 2030 is an understatement. But there are small things we can do every day to make meaningful and impactful changes now. I've been body-checking women of all shapes and sizes for years as a roller derby enthusiast and the one-time captain of the Brooklyn Bombshells. My derby name "Evilicious," which was born in Boston in 2005 when I co-founded a league, continued to define me in the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league and in my life off the track. 

I'm open and nurturing, until you mess with me or my people. Cross a line and, well, you unleash my inner warrior.

I like to think I use that fury for good. Whether it was on the track checking a competitor to create a lane for a teammate to score or just saying no to a boss or client (with kindness) so I could make it home for dinner and bedtime with my young son, I take pride in leading by example. It isn't always easy being the leader, the face of a league, the change-agent at a company. But someone has to do it. And if those on top unite and make it easier for those coming up behind us, we'll all be living the UN's call-to-action.

Here are some lessons I learned as a roller derby boss that might just help individuals unite for collective good. As the state of the world and work requires new creativity daily to survive and thrive, these rules of engagement are more important than ever.  

Encourage each other.

The democracy required to run a 100+ organization of volunteers with different priorities was immense. Managing the opinions of baristas just out of college and industry executives with decades of experience took finesse, patience and openness. On the track, everyone has a role. And everyone needs everyone else to perform so they can deliver. There's no room for a "me me me" mentality. All opinions matter and combine to elevate groups. Having recently returned to a full-time job at the Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts after years in the gig economy, the encouragement I've received from people across all chapters of my life has fueled me. While rebranding AIVA's W3 Awards ahead of the May call-for-entries seems a bit less essential in light of the pandemic, connecting and communicating to elevate the contest that celebrates digital excellence has created a tight-knit group that genuinely cares about each other. And during a time of global uncertainty, having each other's backs matters more than ever.

Fight for justice.

Roller derby is a sport filled with outrageous and fiercely feminist women who love to have fun. It's far from a one-size-fits-all sport. I was often one of the smaller players, but I was tenacious and loud on the track and off. As employee number one of the Barbarian Group and the original chief curator at co:collective, I've led small-but-mighty teams that have grown in size and stature. While I've retired from roller derby, I channel lessons learned from the full-contact sport daily. Roller derby requires agility and athleticism, hours of intense daily workouts and commitment. Highs and lows are inevitable and are especially evident during these Covid-19 times. Derby girls are outside traditional, societal definitions of feminism. Ensuring there's room for interpretation and flexibility in business like on the track is essential.

Camaraderie is cool.

Roller derby, like life, is a crazy game full of ups and downs, immense pain, the thrills of victory, and the agony of defeat. Setting new definitions for strong-minded women and showing different views of strength and camaraderie opens minds, hearts, and delivers results. Sure, exchanges can get heated. But leaving tensions on the track, finding ways to lift people up when they are struggling to do it themselves, and helping them realize their dreams leads to innovation. While I built Agent Gold for five years, placing great talent in cool industry gigs, I missed the connectivity that comes from working internally. Being part of a team and building something deeper and broader is immensely fulfilling. With a résumé that was too often summarily dismissed due to my level of experience, I'll forever feel grateful for finding a nurturing environment in AIVA filled with builders who embrace and support work/life blend.

Don't get too emotional.

Be brave. Know your value. Be unapologetic. Be flexible and get work done well. Rid yourself of monikers others use to brand you, and set your own definitions. When you stumble, good teammates will have your back. Here's hoping your spills don't lead to facial reconstruction, like some of mine did—but that if they do, fanning the flames of camaraderie, justice, and encouragement come back to you in spades.

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Eva McCloskey
Eva McCloskey is managing director of the Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts (AIVA).

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