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Choosing To Challenge: A Conversation With Women Leaders At Chuze

Some of the women leaders at Chuze Fitness got together to have an in-depth conversation about gender bias, the fitness industry, and how to be a strong leader as a woman. Read on to hear what they had to say.

Published: 3/29/21

“A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day.

We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.

From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.”

International Women’s Day

In celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we shed a light on the brilliant women leaders here at Chuze Fitness. And, beyond celebrating them, we fostered an in-depth conversation around their experiences with gender bias, challenges inside and outside of the fitness industry, and the added challenges for our BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ team. Before we get into the interview, we want to set the stage for this conversation and introduce the topics that we will discuss.


Chuze Fitness Leadership

It may come as no surprise that the fitness industry is still dominated by perfect bodies, strong personalities, and, often, a macho mentality. When our founders started Chuze Fitness, they knew that they could do fitness differently. Steeped in kindness, our leaders are welcoming, friendly, and represent all parts of our society. If you have stepped into a Chuze Fitness before, you know that our entire team leads with kindness and intention and leave their egos at the door. We invite our team to show up with pride in who they authentically are and ask that support is given to all others to do the same. We find a powerful beauty in that. It is what sets us apart.


What Is Gender Bias?

As humans, our brains are hardwired to place things into categories. Sometimes, this causes us to place certain traits or stereotypes onto a specific set of people. When we link that bias to gender, we call it gender bias. We often see the conversation of gender bias revolve around the positive ways it impacts straight white men. But, biases can impact all groups of people positively and negatively, or something in-between. According to Builitin.com, 42% of women experience gender discrimination at work, 23% of CEOs are women, and women of color hold just 4% of all C-suite roles. With women making up 47% of the total workforce in the United States, you can see some systemic biases at play.


Our Teams’ Experience With Gender Bias

As we look at our leadership team at Chuze, much of its makeup is women. From our club management, to district teams, into our home office, and the C-Suite—women are represented at every level. But, that doesn’t mean the career journey has been easy. In the conversation below, Jessica Rocca, District Manager of the Inland Empire, talks openly about her experience with gender bias and how confidence plays a role in leadership:

“[…] I do believe that there is definitely some confidence that we have to navigate as a woman in leadership in general. You know: Are we too strong? Are we too direct? Are we not direct enough? All of these things. I think something that we need to challenge ourselves with in leadership is to be who we are as a person. […].”


Gender Bias, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+

And that confidence can be hard to come by. We believe that the best leaders are the ones who lead by example. With heart, humility, and the willingness to help the team achieve a goal. Yet, we know that additional hurdles are set for women in leadership, and beyond this, these hurdles intersect with other layers of a woman’s identity. Our wonderful host, Chelsia Janise, Assistant General Manager at our Chuze Fitness San Bernardino location, talks about the differences in challenges when it comes to our varying backgrounds:

“I think that I’ve faced more challenges with the fact that I am a Black woman more so than the fact that I am a woman. I think that that’s something when it comes to challenging stereotypes or challenging what we are used to seeing as a manager […]. I think that just being us in our own identity, as our own person is a challenge.”

Amelia Hinton, the District Manager of San Diego, shares her experience from two different sides. Prior to 2017, when she had long hair and her gender expression appeared more woman-presenting, she regularly experienced negative bias for being a woman. Yet once she cut her hair, she quickly noticed people started treating her differently. Her words are now taken at face value and she experiences more respect because her hair is short and she is often mistaken to be a man.

Danaia Martel, General Manager of Chuze Fitness Broomfield, relates. She notes that even as a gay woman with short hair who expresses gender in some man-presenting ways, she still experiences disproportionate gender bias: 

“Now that I have Assistant Managers, Brett who is also gay as well, and then Steven who is completely not—even with having all of us on the team, they’ll prefer Steven every time even between us two. That’s just because he is that male figure within the gym.[…] It makes it that much more exciting and powerful to be the change and to show that—regardless of how these people show up—we are still going to be who we are which doesn’t match that energy which is negative.”


Challenging Gender Stereotypes

When it comes to challenging gender stereotypes, our team, whether feminine, masculine, soft-spoken, or extroverted, gets things done. Leadership by example helps give confidence to others aiming toward the same trajectory. Chelsia Janise put it beautifully:

“Having been led by you, (Jessica) Garcia, and by (Jessica) Rocca, it gave me a level of confidence that I didn’t necessarily have from my previous jobs, that you both are very much yourselves. Garcia, you are very bubbly, you are very loving and warm, and she’s an amazing manager. It was always this exciting thing—like, yeah I can be myself and I can lead and I can do it really well.”


Shattering The Glass Ceiling

Our Vice President of Fitness, Ani Oksayan, started at Chuze as a Group Exercise Instructor—a very welcoming environment for women in fitness. She worked her way through the department with confidence, but as she continued her journey and started sitting at executive tables, that’s when she began to feel her confidence dwindle:

“Is what I have to say truly valuable? Should I not jump in because ‘the grown-ups’ are talking? Even at a place like Chuze where, I will say, is the most tolerant, accepting, and safe place I have ever encountered in the fitness industry. I will say that as women it feels a little bit like that’s where the challenge comes. When it’s time to make your voice heard in a predominantly male room on a predominantly male table—then you get thrown for a loop.”


Internal Biases

A lot of the conversation was based around not only external biases but how we feel about ourselves. Like Jessica Rocca and Ani Oksayan talked about above—these ingrained ideas and issues can be hard to navigate. Julia Muzquiz, Director of Recruiting, talks about how the leaders at Chuze value everyone’s thoughts and opinions on the team and that the internal insecurity of not wanting to be difficult is a personal journey for all of the leaders to get through.  


How To Be The Change In The Fitness Industry

First, we can start by acknowledging there is an issue. Second, we can support and lift the leaders in our company who inspire and make change every day. And third, we must hit the ground running with tangible action. See the steps we are beginning to take here at Chuze Fitness to more actively listen, learn and fight for all oppressed communities.

We are so proud of our team and all that they accomplish. They are resilient, strong, intelligent, kind, and hold all of the attributes you want in someone in charge of a team. There is so much more to unpack with this conversation. Join us in the entire conversation below!


Thank you to the wonderful women who took part in this conversation:

Chelsia Janise (Moderator) – Assistant General Manager at Chuze Fitness San Bernardino

Melissa Sowell – Chief Administration Officer

Jackie Squire – Director of Kids Club

Jessica Rocca – District Manager of the Inland Empire

Amelia Hinton – District Manager of San Diego

Danaia Martel – General Manager of Chuze Fitness Broomfield

Jesenia Rosales – Maintenance Administrator

Jessica Garcia – District Manager of North Denver, Colorado

Ani Oksayan – Vice President of Fitness

Julia Muzquiz – Director of Recruiting

Farel Hruska – Director of Education and Culture

Amanda Schroeder – Marketing & Creative Coordinator

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