Clarkson is made up of notable and impactful women who defy convention and challenge the status quo. We are grateful for this unique community of alumnae, staff, faculty, and students who leave their mark on our campus and our world. Check out our series of blog posts highlighting just a few remarkable alumni women!
Meet Kristen Larsen, a Senior Performance Innovation Manager at Tonal. Kristen graduated from Clarkson in 2008 with a Bachelor of Biomolecular Science and a Physical Therapy Concentration. Kristen then pursued a Master of Engineering Science which she earned in 2009. We asked Kristen some questions about her career and being a woman in a STEM career field. Check out what she had to say.
What is your current position title and company?
I’m a Senior Performance Innovation Manager at Tonal. My job focuses on innovating the company through new market and membership opportunities while ensuring our users have a world-class experience that helps them achieve their goals and see outcomes in their fitness/well-being.
What advice would you give to young women looking to enter your field?
Take every step, even the smallest step, in the direction that makes you uncomfortable. Marching into a new territory, no matter what it is, will push you out of your comfort zone. Once you get comfortable inching slowly towards discomfort, you’ll look back and realize you’ve moved into an exciting new territory you could have only dreamed of. All it takes is one step at a time.
What has been your proudest moment so far in your career?
The proudest moment in my career came when I realized I was beginning to pay forward a little bit of the goodness that people have paid to me. So many times in my life and career, I’ve benefited from the generosity of others. From strangers, network, and friends, all generous with their time, advice, and support. Having moments on the other side of that equation, truly helping someone else at their juncture, is an immeasurable thing. It all comes full circle.
How do you feel your time at Clarkson has influenced your career?
Clarkson first helped me learn how to solve hard problems and think outside the box. Over the years, however, I’ve realized this is mundane in comparison to what Clarkson’s people have taught me. It started the minute I stepped on campus for my college tour, meeting Coach Mick Maguire and my teammates who’d soon become family. From inspiring professors like Dr. Charlie Robinson teaching us about ALS while supporting his wife through this horrible disease. And of course, President Tony Collins, who day in and day out displayed leadership qualities I try to emulate to this day. Clarkson has always made me feel special; never a number. It showed me how to lean on people for support, how to lead, how to challenge the status quo, and how active others will be in helping you achieve your dreams.
Have you been involved in any women-focused groups?
I’ve been blessed with leaders who organize women-centric book clubs, like reading How Women Rise, and colleagues/mentors who drive active conversation on how to build females up in the office. I’ve been taught tactics on how to applaud other women’s great ideas in meetings and to highlight the voices that are often overlooked to ensure we keep pushing as one for all our voices to be heard.
How do you encourage women empowerment/leadership in your current position?
Now working for two companies that encourage and openly discuss equality and diversity, I have learned a lot about how to empower and show up to support others. Often, women have great ideas, but in a room full of men, many of us hesitate to speak up. I have learned that I can help build others up by calling on them, “Hey, [Stacey], what do you think about this?”, pausing for others to speak and observing who is about to speak, and encouraging a woman’s idea by using her name in group settings “Hey [Stacey], your idea is the best solution, let’s figure out how to make that happen!” I am constantly reminding myself of this great quote “You can tell who the strong women are. They are the ones you see building one another up instead of tearing each other down.”
What has been your biggest struggle as a woman in your career?
As a woman who spent seven years of her career in meetings with coaches, trainers and athletes, I had to very quickly get comfortable walking into situations where I was the only female. Many of these meetings took place in weight rooms. Weight rooms that often consisted of upwards of 20 men across the realms of professional sports, collegiate sports, and the US military. I had many moments of pure intimidation, fears of not being relatable enough, and internal thoughts of how to be taken seriously. I was always giving myself pep talks to muster the courage to talk about performance gains with these already A-caliber people.
With time, I learned that if you are vulnerable, can laugh at yourself, and have the confidence within yourself, you’ll be able to trigger whatever courage is needed for the situation. I’ve had to change my inner dialogue from “I’m just a small-town girl who was a D3 swimmer” to “I deserve to be in this room.”
Without improving my internal framing, I may have not overcome some of the struggles. I’ve had those instances where I’ve been escorted to a parking lot for “smiling too much,” instances where I’ve been scolded for “not smiling enough,” ridiculed for wearing pink in a weight room, and told I’d make a good wife because I was organized. At first, each of these moments stung. But, I’ve realized that the greater majority of men have truly helped build me up. From the leaders who proclaimed my expertise, “Kristen is our expert on this, so listen up!”, to the coaches who asked me to host Spring Training seminars for 110 players, to those who got me in front of their head coaches and front offices because they needed support in communicating their ideas in an effective way. Those are the moments I’ve learned to hang on to. The moments that feed my courage to press on and get comfortable with being the odd one out.
Over time, have you seen changes in the roles of women in your field?
The professional and collegiate strength field obviously has a lot of male coaches, but interwoven are an incredible group of women. Female biomechanists, exercise physiologists, data analysts, sport scientists, athletic trainers, and more and more women strength coaches at every level of sport. It’s all so inspiring! I am so excited to continue forging the way with the women who paved the path for me and those beginning to charge forward in the field of human performance.
Thank you for agreeing to be a featured alumna, Kristen!
If you would like to hear more from Kristen, check out another conversation about her innovative work that marries technology and athletic performance.
Check out another female-centric Clarkson blog post here.