‘People were suffering in silence’: improving lives for parents in the industry

  • Horse & Hound is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy. Learn more
  • Physio sessions for yard staff and riders returning to work after having a baby are being offered as part of an industry-wide push to better support parents in the workplace.

    Women in Racing’s “Racing Home” initiative officially launched this summer following extensive research into barriers faced by women working in the industry. It provides a comprehensive online hub where employers, employees and the self-employed can easily find information about their rights, and how best to support staff balancing family life with careers.

    “It’s not just about women, it’s about working parents, carers, and people considering a family, because we found out younger generations were ‘checking out’ of this industry,” said Simply Racing founder Dena Merson, chairing the panel discussion.

    “The industry suffers with retention issues as we know. But if half your workforce is women, if 70% of those joining the colleges are women and we can’t retain them because they feel having a family is incompatible with a working existence in racing, we haven’t got a sustainable future. I now believe we have.”
    She added that when they spoke to the National Association of Racing Staff (NARS) about the number of men who had taken paternity leave, it could be counted “on one hand – over a number of years”.

    “We realised people were suffering in silence, they were going through feelings of guilt, isolation, juggling careers and initially the report was for women. But then we realised this was about parenthood as well,” she said. “There were men who felt they couldn’t take a day off to go and watch their kids play football or pick them up from school because it would be frowned upon.”

    She said they did not want this research to be negative – finding the problems and leaving them “festering” – but to offer solutions, which came from within the industry and are what have formed Racing Home.

    The initiative also includes support groups, plus the pilot scheme offering six free physio sessions to staff returning to ride work after childbirth. A large part of its work is about education, both in yards and through the racing colleges.

    NARS’ Dominique Tortice said that as someone who has “lived it”, she “wanted to be involved in breaking the wheel and putting it back together again”.
    “It’s very much NARS’ stance that things need to change,” she said. “If we don’t look at these issues now, in 10 years’ time we are going to be in a far worse situation in terms of staff than we are now.”

    Ms Tortice has been engaging with yards in Newmarket and said she was encouraged by how people “wanted to talk about it”, with a mix of positive and negative feedback from trainers.

    “I felt quite emotional because it is something I’ve poured my heart and soul into and hearing the excitement from people at my level in the industry and that they are thankful that someone is doing something was really great,” she said.

    She added that the physio pilot is about making it a “much smoother” transition for returning staff.

    “At the moment there is absolutely nothing like that. What it looked like for me and other women is you go back in and they say, ‘Brilliant, you’re back – here’s your four lots,’” she said, adding that there is little or no consideration that someone may have had a C-section or is breastfeeding.
    “Why would anyone want to return to that if that is your introduction back to working full-time?” she said.

    “The biggest blocker we face as a programme is changing the cultures of the employers. I cannot emphasise that enough.”

    Specialist employment lawyer Gemma Ospedale said this is “not just confined to racing”.

    “Across the board you will find a resistance to employers having to comply with employment law rights employees have, male or female. They don’t want to because it interferes with their business,” she said.

    “There are a lot of employers, industries and sectors who all want to have their cake and eat it. Have their employees working all the time, full-time, don’t want them to ask for flexible working because it inconveniences them.”

    She added: “It is more difficult working if you are with animals, because they are a 24/7 365 days of the year job, but it isn’t insurmountable. We need to try to change the culture and way of thinking. If employers can be open minded and embrace the concept of staff going on maternity leave, coming back, flexible working, they will get loyalty in return.”

    You might also be interested in:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits. 

    You may like...