Daring to be brave! A report is launched: Women’s representation and diversity in the horseracing industry

Daring to be brave! A report is launched: Women’s representation and diversity in the horseracing industry

Tallulah Lewis | May 23, 2017 | In the News

Women in Racing always likes to hear from our members and what they think of the important issues facing our sport.. Liz Peel, who served two full terms on the committee, has shared her account of last week’s AGM and the publication of the diversity research and we wanted to share this with you.

Elizabeth Peel is a partner in The Lion Associates –  a creative services consultancy that offers a wide spectrum of professional expertise focused on communications, marketing, sponsorship, events management and project resourcing. Design & creative services... taking pride in what you do – in person • in print • online.


The first ever research into diversity in British horseracing has been published under the above title by the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes University (Brookes) and Women in Racing (WiR). The Racing Foundation-supported research was unveiled at the sixth WiR Annual General Meeting held at York Racecourse on May 17 and demonstrates the requirement to develop a diversity agenda within the sport.

The exercise was carried out by Professor Simonetta Manfredi, Professor of Equality and Diversity Management, and Kate Clayton-Hathway, PhD Research Assistant, and was the brainchild of Sally Rowley-Williams, Founder and Honorary President of WiR.

Sally introduced the report by outlining the journey to its publication... from the founding of WiR in 2009, when the possibility of executing research in to diversity was first discussed, to partnering with Brookes through to receiving support from The Racing Foundation. "As an optimist, I invite the whole industry to embrace this research and use it as a basis for action to improve gender and all diversity across the sport." In closing Sally drew inspiration from the words of Sir Walter Scott who called for 'The will to do, the soul to dare' and challenged the industry to... "be brave, I dare you".

Kate took the floor and confirmed that it had been extremely interesting to tackle gender diversity questions in what is already a generally diverse industry.

The research took a mixed approach via a questionnaire and also with direct interviews. It is a tried and tested approach that not only delivers quantitative data but also a richness of qualitative data as well.

It is the first time that people in racing have been asked to engage on this level and the overall result was unprecedented levels of qualitative information to analyse. In fact the team have never carried out research where so many additional comments have been volunteered. The response rate of 393 may not sound a high number but for a researcher this is a good result and certainly a large enough number to apply statistics testing to in order to ensure the findings are robust. It was reassuring to the research team that a good number of men were interested in commenting as well.

The process of the research highlighted the complexity of the racing industry and the difficulty this creates in providing structured careers advice with the discovery that is not uncommon for people to be involved in up to five different areas within the same industry. Having family connections provides a level of credibility that is thought of as being a career enabler – an advantage that many lack. Mentoring supports people who don't have that advantage, having female role models is also considered a huge boost.


What may be considered 'standard' stereotypes were apparent with women being considered better at empathetic, caring and charitable roles. Working within the constraints of a charity is challenging and develops skills and an understanding of strategy that should not be underestimated in the commercial world. With only 16% of women represented on corporate boards, is the commercial world missing out on valuable experience enjoyed by charities with 34% of boards represented by women?

Many findings are society-wide and not unique to racing, such as lack of flexibility and support around paternity and pregnancy as well as for freelance and self-employed workers.

With a 70/30% female/male split entering the industry through racing colleges even those who were surveyed who felt there was no gender issue were surprised that there are not more female jockeys. The general narrative remains that women are not as strong and/or as hungry with ambition as men to stick with the training and work as hard.

Simonetta commented on the results of the research: "There is a strong business case emerging for diversity within the industry – there are lot of women with a lot of experience in the industry, but they are not progressing and the industry is not making best use of their talent. With uncertainty in the air surrounding Brexit, and the general political environment, the industry should harness all available talent and reflect the customer base with 39 per cent of ticket sales made by female buyers.

Reflecting on the higher percentage of women represented on charitable boards Simonetta argued that charity is a complex area in which to operate and there are valuable transferable skills to be taken advantage of. "We should have a conversation about merit," Simonetta continued, "it's a conversation that usually finds its way to the topic of quotas and targets. Not necessarily a bad thing as what gets measured gets done. Although many consider targets, and quotas in particular, divisive they can actually drive change. Groups such as Women in Racing and their mentoring initiatives are agents for that change.

"Just changing the numbers is not enough, but you need to change the numbers to effect an overall change. The only successful equality work we have been involved with has been achieved through setting targets and having prominent personalities to champion those targets. These may appear 'token-like' at the beginning, but it's a point from which to start and eventually delivers change that is independent of targets.

"While quotas are illegal in the UK employers do have a voluntary option available to them to boost the numbers of an under-represented group – such as the promotion of women to board level. For example, when two candidates, one male and one female, are in a tie-break situation for a role that they are both as qualified and suitable for as each other an employer can legally give preference to a person in an under-represented group. It is intervention, but it's positive intervention and promotes numbers, which promotes awareness and drives change."

There needs to be a desire is to normalise the position of women in otherwise male dominated areas of the workplace so that the narrative develops to being around the 'job being done' and not about 'who' is doing the job.

There is already an appetite for further research in to the success of businesses with female domination in the workforce compared to those that are male dominated. Perhaps we should all watch this space and, to paraphrase Sally's earlier challenge 'dare to be brave' in both word and action.