The challenges faced by working mothers in the equestrian world have been put into the spotlight.
Women in Racing hosted a panel discussion on 18 November as a first step in research to understand more about the situation for women in the industry. This covered issues, real and perceived, positives and negatives, and what more could be done to support bosses, staff and the self-employed balancing families and work.
It was stressed that the research covered fathers and all types of family as well as mothers.
The panel, chaired by business consultancy Simply Racing founder Dena Arstall, comprised British Horseracing Authority director of legal and governance Catherine Beloff, Debbie Grey from the diversity in racing steering group, Suzanne Homewood of Samsung and a director at British Dressage, and broadcaster Gina Bryce.
While the panel started the debate, it was widened to the floor and restrictions were placed on revealing people’s identities to encourage open discussion.
Participants spoke of feelings of guilt, fears of loss of identity, loneliness, and of people’s reactions and the impact on a career. There were also positive stories of parenthood and ways people have found balance.
The conversation went beyond racing yards to cover the wider industry, but the point was made that racing is facing a staffing crisis. Losing skilled staff owing to the challenges they face physically ahead of maternity leave, as well as logistically with having a family, was also raised.
Statistics show that as of June 2017, 51% of the sport’s stable staff workforce was female, up from 42% in 2010. Nearly three-quarters of students at the British Racing School and Northern Racing College in the 2016/17 academic year were women.
The cost of childcare, and it not always being available early enough in the day, were seen as major barriers. But evidence needs to be collected to get the real picture.
Topics also covered how small businesses cope with employees on maternity leave or unable to carry out the same duties as before they were pregnant.
The discussion focused on what racing could learn from other industries and what changes could help. Suggestions included flexible working and more support for bosses in managing this type of conversation, and managing family life themselves.
Women in Racing chairman Tallulah Lewis told H&H the debate “surpassed expectations”, and they have since had a huge number of emails and suggestions.
“Our objective was very much to kick-start the discussion, get everyone engaged and create a space for dialogue,” she said, adding they want to look across the industry in the research.
“The next step will be to collect data and give it to the industry, to hopefully offer something tangible that people can use,” she said. “One thing we hope to look at is what other industries do.”
Ms Lewis added this is not just about families but the whole sport, and hopes this is an area in which racing can lead by example.
“We know there is a staffing crisis but this goes beyond that,” she said. “This affects everyone and if we lose people, it damages the whole industry.”
Rupert Arnold, of the National Trainers Federation (NTF), told H&H these are important conversations.
He added the NTF has plenty of advice available for trainers, including someone who specialises in employment, toolkits and guidance on what support people might need and how to make a business attractive to those returning to work.
“Research has been done that shows for racing staff there is a drop in young women aged 24 or 25, and the assumption was some of them would be starting families,” he said.
“One obstacle to them coming back to work is childcare. Some trainers are changing working hours of individuals so they can access that, and implementing flexible hours. I think more and more trainers are seeing it is not just the sensible thing to do for [employees with families] but that the industry is short of skilled people and people with experience in racing yards, so being flexible can help fill those gaps.”
National Association of Racing Staff (NARS) chief executive George McGrath told H&H those working in yards and facing issues such as the cost of childcare with the loss of benefits need to be represented in these discussions, and the conversation must not ignore the needs of fathers.
“Our members can come to us for support or advice on anything,” he said. “We do support a number of mothers who have had issues and there have been cases where certain trainers have seen pregnancy as a case for dismissal.”
He stressed that this is a small minority and by no means the whole picture of racing.
Liz Daniels, of the British Grooms Association (BGA) and the Equestrian Employers Association (EEA), who has worked on yards, told H&H many members are working mothers.
“There are so many amazing jobs now [that will fit with your own circumstances], whether you are based on the yard and need stability and structure, or freelance where you can set your own working patterns,” she said.
She added there is guidance for staff, employers and freelancers on the BGA and EEA websites.
“It is about finding a way to make it work,” she said.
“For smaller yards with few or one employee, that will be a challenge, but there are always ways, even if it means you get someone in part-time or freelance.
“Of course it does have an impact on small businesses and the EEA has practical advice. It is daunting for both employers and employees.”
She added everyone’s circumstances are different, so communication is crucial.
“From my perspective, it was really important for me to have my own identity,” she said. “I’ve had horses all my life and built my career around them, and I wanted to maintain that.”
Simone Sear, Racing Welfare’s director of welfare, told H&H the charity offers support to those in need.
“Becoming a new parent can be a daunting experience, especially for people without strong support networks,” she said.
“If you work or have previously worked in the horseracing industry then Racing Welfare can help in a variety of ways. From emotional support, befriending and professional counselling available 24/7 at Racing’s support line to support with housing issues, debt advice, maximizing income through state benefits and with financial grants for a range of goods and services.
“The careers advice and training service is also there to help people stay in or return to the racing industry through skills development and funding for further training, while racing’s occupational health service provides support and funded treatment for anyone struggling with health related issues, including return to work
“Moreover, Racing Welfare is there to listen and our teams can also help you to find and access specialist support if necessary.”
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