‘Dream Job’ Shines Light On Fitness Industry Inequities, Leads To New Dream

(Photo courtesy American Council on Exercise.) Venus Davis started a career in fitness after her own health struggles, but her time in the fitness industry opened her eyes to diversity issues and ultimately led her to a career focused on creating a fair and equitable culture and educating Black communities about preventative care.

In fall 2001, I moved back to New York along with my then five-year-old son. I landed a position in experimental marketing and decided to continue my studies at New York University (NYU), a school at which I promised myself I would attend when I was younger. Dream school? Accepted. First apartment? Done. Son in school? Check. I was pretty much on my way.

Shortly after I started at NYU, the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York happened. Everything in my world turned upside down. My once magical city was now a scary place. Personally, I was traumatized and felt unsafe to commute into midtown for work and classes. I also feared for my son’s safety on a regular basis. This moment was when I felt a shift in my health. Eagerness was replaced with anxiety. Anxiety grew into a bunch of health issues—including stress and increased cortisol—which led to weight gain and gut issues.

My health was in jeopardy, the joys of parenting my son became a challenge and my health was only getting worse.

In 2009, my son and I relocated to Washington, D.C. I accepted a position at Georgetown University, where I now work in diversity, equity and inclusion. In hindsight, there was a peace that came with our relocation, but the damage was done. I was overweight and suffering from migraines and digestive complications regularly. With a clearer mind, I was ready to start focusing on my health. I set doctors appointments and found The Energy Club. From running to indoor cycling to HIIT, I was rediscovering myself. Only this time, I was all grown up and able to address the health issues head on. 

In 2017, after writing blogs for Georgetown University, starting run clubs and mastering group cycling and HIIT, I knew it was time to become a certified personal trainer, so I got my first certification through the American Council on Exercise, which ignited my passion for fitness and wellness and started me on my path of helping others. Preparing for my certification exam was a true roller coaster, especially while working my full-time job. As motivation, I would study intensely at the coffee shop across the street from the gym where I dreamed of working, and it all paid off. I became certified and got hired as a trainer at my dream company.

I remember in my interview at my gym, the general manager asked me: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” My response was, “I’ll have my own CNN Health segment by then.” I said that at a time when the image of fitness was not that of a fit woman of color but instead that of a white woman who did not reflect my training style.

After I began working there, I felt that my questions about planning and the ideas I offered were brushed aside. I began to discover the inequities in the fitness industry. Within a year, I met the requirements to become a master trainer, but time passed, and I did not receive my promotion in status. I became increasingly aware of the promotion dynamic of Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC). I saw a lack of representation on all levels at the company. Professional development did not seem to be a priority for those in leadership positions.

Events around COVID-19 and the recent racial climate later made me feel that the unfairness within my gym’s culture was worse than I had imagined. The company was unwilling to accommodate my schedule and health concerns surrounding the new regulations, and I was asked to leave the company. When I asked for clarity around the new rules, the responses seemed worded as if I was at fault. No matter how I phrased statements, they seemed to interpret my words—those of a woman of color—as an attack and they responded to them as such. 

The turn of events has worked to my advantage. After much hesitation, I have finally stepped out and soon will be launching my executive wellness and personal coaching services. This fall, I plan to get my fitness nutrition specialist and cancer exercise certifications. I have worked so hard for this moment and am grateful for the opportunities and networks I am making. I have learned so much in the last three years. I want to get women of color out of the box of being just “trainers.” I am creating a fair and equitable culture that will grow and evolve around the concerns of all people but mostly the BIPOC community. At the top of my list is outreach in Black communities, educating them in preventative care for health concerns specific to our culture.

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