Meet the women of Nuffield Health - Michaela Afford

International Women’s Day (8th March) is a chance for people all over the world to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, increasing visibility and raising awareness about gender inequality across the world.

In the lead up to the day, we have interviewed some of our inspirational women to discuss the challenges and bias women face today and the women that inspired them.

Can you tell us about your role at Nuffield Health? 

I currently have four roles at Nuffield Health Crawley Central Fitness and Wellbeing Centre. I am a Wellbeing Personal Trainer, the Personal Training Lead, Group Exercise Instructor and the centre’s Emotional Support Champion.  

As a Wellbeing Personal Trainer, I support our members to achieve their health and fitness goals, right from the start of their membership with inductions, personal programs and 1-1 personal training. This not only includes the on-site sessions but also looking at their lifestyle, nutrition and as a trainee counsellor, I like to bring an element of mental and emotional wellness to our working relationship too. 

My role as PT Lead is to support my colleagues and the Fitness Manager, running promotions and events in the centre. As Emotional Support Champion, I support my colleagues in the wider spectrum of the centre, being there for them when they need someone to talk to in confidence. 

What do you think has changed for women between when you started your career and now? 

While fitness has always been a mix of males and females, it has often been seen that the females take part in group exercise classes, such as aerobics and yoga, while the males have dominated the personal training and strength-based elements of the gym. However, in the last few years, there has been a major shift of women coming through and crossing that invisible threshold. It is great to look around the gym floor now and see so many women lifting weights, and getting stronger and more confident.  

Similarly, there has been an increase in the number of women in managerial roles within fitness. At my site, I am so proud that eight of the nine management positions are held by women. 

What attitudes or biases do you still recognise around us? 

The main misconception I see is from the female members of an older generation, that feel they shouldn't be doing any weight training because they don't want to bulk up.  

I have been running a series of workshops to try and change this perception and help women to not only feel confident about exploring that side of the gym but also to understand why it is so important for their physical and mental health to incorporate this type of training into their routine. 

Where do you notice your womanhood boosting you as a leader? 

My womanhood has helped to boost me as a leader by having the drive and tenacity to break down barriers. When I stepped into the world of fitness, I was surrounded by men, both as colleagues and clients. While changes had already begun to take place, I wanted to be a part of driving that change further. Being a woman gives me a better understanding of what my female clients need, and I have educated myself further to better assist and empower those women on their path to wellness. 

Where do you notice your womanhood becoming a barrier for you? 

My womanhood can still be a barrier when it comes to perception of what I can do and how I can help. I often still get offers of help from male members to help me lift a dumbbell when tidying the gym floor, or if I'm stood with a male colleague, a male member will often talk directly to him when asking a question rather than me.  

Which woman has inspired you and why? 

The women that have inspired me in my life are my mum, my nan and within the fitness industry, my Body Pump trainer Denice Burr.  

My parents divorced when I was two, while they shared custody, my mum still worked two jobs, day and night, to make sure we had everything we needed growing up. She raised us to be self-sufficient and showed me what it meant to be a strong and independent woman.  

Denice was an inspiration when I first entered the fitness industry. She trained me to be a Body Pump instructor. Not only was Denice a woman, over forty and lifting weights, like me, she is also mixed race. She showed me that the barriers I have faced in life can be knocked down, and I could become a leader for other women in the industry. She inspired me to work hard and gain my Elite status as a Body Pump instructor and I am now an Instructor Support Coach for other new Pump Instructors going through their training. 

Last updated Friday 4 March 2022

First published on Friday 4 March 2022