How to build a welcoming training environment for women

“Dear Jess…long time no speak. I’ve started running BJJ classes and (other than common sense) was wondering if you had any tips to make it a welcoming environment for women wanting to train?” ~ Matt

Hi Matt,
Firstly, props for reaching out to me. So many coaches and business owners try to guess what women need and want without researching the subject (which has always struck me as a crazy business decision) so this is a great opportunity for education for all…I can’t imagine trying to sell a product without first knowing my customer or their needs, it is heartening to see this blind spot being addressed proactively.

Rather than just giving you my opinion I thought I would cast my net wider and I went to the best group of women I know for the job, the Australian Girls in Gi members forum. Who better to ask than 1700 Australian women who actively train BJJ? If they don’t know best, I don’t know who would.
Below is their collated responses that I am now publishing (with their permission) for the benefit of the entire community world wide; with the hope that we can all create more welcoming environments for female athletes and positively effect the retention of women in our sport. Like anyone, I would love to see even more women on the mats and the current trend of participation increase 10 fold.

Below are the 80 responses and ideas (collated down to 46 due to repeats).
Key themes raised: cleanliness, inclusion, equity and equality.

Many thanks to the members of Australian Girls in Gi that contributed to the discussion and to the overall culture of the Australian jiu jitsu community every day.

Image source: Australian Girls in Gi Camps

x Jess ‘Koala Jiu Jitsu’ Fraser

Clean facilities including changeroom, bathroom and mats.
Female changeroom
Sanitary services in bathrooms
Ask students to change only in the change rooms/not out in the open
Equal rules for males and females eg. rashguards under gis, participation in class, fees
Ensure current members are willing to partner with women
Ensure women aren’t being left without training partners/always working in the 3
Ensure women are paired with students equally interested/dedicated rather than assuming women need to pair with women
Use inclusive language (not always ‘guys lets drill this…’, leave out the ‘guys’)
Don’t use female terms as put downs ‘be a bitch about/dont be a pussy’ etc
Don’t always pair female students together, unless they have expressed that preference.
Encourage female students by having them demonstrate skills to the class in the same ways you highlight male skills.
Celebrate and support your female team members the same way you would your male team members; on social media, in person and at competition
Invite talented women instructors to run guest training opportunities, classes seminars ect.
Encourage female students to join AGIG, and support them cross training to work with other females.
Foster leadership opportunities for women – having higher belt women and women running mixed classes helps build female retention.
Another for encouraging them to join AGIG’s facebook forum, that will have a direct impact on retention
When it comes to rolling time, setting up rotational drills where partners are random not chosen!
Work on being open to feedback and check in with students – so that they will feel safe to disclose any concerns they have, rather than just quitting.
Consider a ‘two week no submission’ on the new people rule. It allows them to grasp the movement and closeness of the sprit without the constant tapping. Helps with retention at our little gym.
Don’t pair smaller women with 13-17 year old boys. They might be similar in size but nine times out of ten it’s just a lot of awkward/hormones
Avoid sexist language and have an open zero tolerance for sexist language
For a respectful and safe culture, emphasise people’s safety when rolling with each other and using technique over brute strength
Ensure heirachy is based on belt and experience, not gender and where the belt is the same, experience dictates heirachy, not the gender or size.
Offer as many opportunities to females as males – coaching roles for adults. Women can teach adults as well as children
Make it compulsory for guys to wear rashguards
Demonstrate the technique utilising the student of highest rank. Even if it happens to be a girl.
Consider the decor of the gym (like posters everywhere of guys w no shirts punching each other etc) Consider what impression the gym environment gives about the training culture. When a woman wanting to learn bjj walks in shes prob thinking – Will I have a space here?
Equal attention to both male and female students, including out of class “banter”.
Sometimes the male coaches naturally gravitate towards their male students (without malice intent, of course) and the female students can perpetually feel on the outer.
Presence of female higher belts or female students who take the white belts under their wing. This person would also keep an eye out for “bad rolls” that may occur for females.
Paying attention to female students who tense up or do not roll the way they usually would when partnered with certain people. They may not feel comfortable in speaking up, so their body language gives it away instead.
Believe them if they do express a concern! There’s not much worse than gathering the courage to explain an uncomfortable experience or problematic interaction and have the senior person dismiss or diminish or doubt you.
Current female members is the best indicator to a female that the space is welcoming.
Where possible, a female coach/assistant coach/helper is nice!
Expecting the same from male and female students. Don’t have a culture where the girls are allowed to stand back and not do things, or do one roll then sit out.
Think about offering a women’s only class once a week. Many women have cited this as their reason to start/stay.
A really supportive coach who helps prepare students for comp and comes to comps to support, takes the time to roll with us and understands where we are with our bjj, and takes the time to chat with all of us so she/he understands how we’re feeling with our bjj.
Don’t single out women on the mats. It doesn’t help to yell across the gym to the guy I’m rolling with “hey! Be careful with her! Don’t make her cry!” (source: has happened to me before, was embarrassing and made me feel less capable). I also once went to a gym where they separated all the girls, regardless of rank, into a separate “beginner” part of the mat. No good.
Comments such as ‘be gentle with the women and kids’ isn’t helpful
Tell the lads if they ask to roll with a female and she says no, they should not stand there and demand a reason as to why. Sometimes it’s tough to explain why we don’t want to roll.
Tell women they can ALWAYS say no if they want to, and they can tap out and walk away at any stage if that’s what they need to do.
It’s good to always keep equity in mind, especially when considering a minority (which women still sadly are in BJJ). Note that equity is NOT equality. Equality would be having the same bathroom setup for women as men, including urinals. Equity involves a bit more thought (and probably more toilet rolls).
Grade female students to the same standard as men, with the same expectations/tasks to fullfill
Keep relationships professional or private.

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